Dilemma of Ethical Leadership (Case Study Part 2)
continued from part 1 Click here
On Saturday, when Arun and me caught up at a quiet corner of the Coffee Room of my Club, he was much more composed. But, still the underlying disturbance was coming through on his expression and rather taut body language. Not the usual relaxed demeanour that I have seen in him on our previous interactions.
We started by setting our objective for the session. Arun said he was not expecting to reach a decision at the end of the hour we had kept for ourselves. But, wished to gain clarity on where he should be putting his focus. He was struggling with the dilemma of whether to put his people before self or be guided by his own instinct of self-preservation. I checked in by asking – if the organisation featured anywhere in his consideration set? He reacted with a somewhat vehement “no”. He felt let down by the organisation and “cheated” by his boss, who he felt has not only been less than honest with him earlier, but was again being disingenuous now. He blamed the Head of HR for being an accomplice in the process despite all his protestations about “concern for people”.
We started our exploration by asking what was most important to him – his own career or looking after his people. Arun was quite emphatic that, he was confident of his future, but his team looked up to him and he owed them a fair deal. He was concerned about several lives and families being displaced and did not wish to bear that load on his conscience.
Taking it a step forward, I asked what kind of an outcome could potentially take the “load of his conscience”. He recognised that, the decision to shut down the division had pretty much been made and was irreversible. The best he could achieve was securing a good separation deal for them and help in their rehabilitation.
This led to our discussing – what could he do to facilitate the process? At first, he thought of activating his own network to find job leads for some of them. However, he soon realised the limitation of such an option. He could, at best, help one or two people in this way but not at all. He had also toyed with the idea of leaving with them and starting their own independent venture in the same business line, as they were all well versed in the field. But, funding would be a constraint. Besides, not all of them would have the entrepreneurial appetite and he could not possibly take the responsibility for all on his lone shoulder.
“Ok, he understands his limitations and, will hopefully eschew any heroics” - I thought to myself, while being careful not to make any suggestion. Because, for coaching to work – Arun had to arrive at his own truth and determine the way forward based on that realisation.
Arun seemed to get that intuitively. After a long pause he said – “I can’t do it all by myself. I will need help.” I asked him who could be his potential allies. He referred to his network of friends in the industry and also contacts with some head-hunters he knew. But, at the same time he recognised that these people would have little stake in the problem or skin in the game other than helping him out as a friend. He needed to enlist the support of his organisation – but knowing the nature and attitude of his CEO and Head of HR he was not hopeful of getting much empathy. He had to negotiate with them.
A consummate business manager – Arun decided to don his “salesman” hat. He began to analyse the needs of his customers (in this case the CEO and HR Head) that he could leverage on. He knew both of them were risk averse and would avoid rocking the boat. That is why they needed Arun to be around – but he wasn’t willing to be used as a “tool”. He could offer his services – to achieve what was right for the organisation – provided their was a “fair exchange” of value. For that, he had to get the CEO to a “negotiation” table as it were.
Arun’s confidence and determination began to show on his face. Truly impressed, I asked him, what made him so sure that they would be willing to talk? Listen, he said – “if I were to quit they would be in deep shit”. Dev is too insecure a CEO to risk that and he does not have much time in his hand. If he can’t get the restructuring in place quickly – he knows the new management will get someone else to do it. And, as far as the HR Head was concerned – he would play along, as it would save him a lot of “dirty work”.
So, we got down to listing some options:
1. First, he must get them to agree for 2 to 3 months of paid “Gardening Leave” for the team;
2. Since, the company was in any case shutting down the business line, there should be no “non-compete” clause linked to the separation pay;
3. The company should formally engage one or more head-hunting firms for “out-placement” of the people;
4. The company should make the services of a Coach and/or Counsellor for those who were open to taking external help.
Finally, I could see a smile spreading across Arun’s face. Armed with these ideas he seemed ready to fight another day.
(Post-scrip: In the organisation rejig that followed after a few months – Arun was appointed the new CEO and I got a new client. You guessed it right – he was Arun’s ex-boss and the former CEO)
N.B. Case narrated with permission of the Coachee. Name changed and organisational context and specific details modified for maintaining confidentiality