Leaders Who Can’t Let Go or Let It Go!

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There are certain traits that can exist within leaders that are there whether they are in a workplace context, political context, domestic context or other situations where groups of people are operating within a leadership structure, like in a community context for example.  Today I want to talk about 2 particularly unattractive traits:

  1. Leaders who can’t let go
  2. Leaders who can’t let it go

What’s the difference you say? Isn’t it semantics? Bear with me…

1. The leader who can’t let go is a type of character that reveals itself in situations where the leader feels injured, a victim even, that has done no wrong and is very bitter about a situation that has occurred where s/he feels slighted by others. Are they able to take responsibility for any of what happened? No! Will they seize every opportunity to replay their version of events to a sympathetic audience? Hell yes! Not only that but if the ‘offender(s)’ is in reach, for example via social media or places where both might happen upon each other, then an opportunity for subtle undermining, disrespectful behaviour and attempted intimidation can occur. The Leader who can’t let go becomes the psychological bully. They will publicly feign respect for you and privately (but in plain sight of their supporters) denigrate you. Their mission becomes one which is concerned with making sure everyone knows they are the victim and attacking the integrity of your work – work they previously applauded you for. Not in an overt way of course, after all,  the leader has set themself up as the King or Queen of spin and the pinnacle of rightness. The success of the real mission or in fact the potential failure of it also becomes an issue that the ‘offender’ becomes responsible for even though they have long since left the team. The leader who can’t let go will continue their onslaught unless challenged. It’s very similar to being in an abusive relationship where the party who has decided to leave is subject to subtle emotional abuse as the other party seethes over what they see as a rejection.

So how do you deal with this? Well there are at least 2 sides to every story. Make sure you tell yours! Avoid head to heads and slanging matches. Make sure key people in key places are aware of a counter narrative that is balanced, truthful and sincere. Think also about mechanisms you can use and try as much as possible to depersonalise your account so as not to be seen to attacking individuals, more accounting, reflecting and describing. Most of all if it needs to go further, make sure you have evidence to back up your account. Do not become a victim. Seek advice and don’t rush into any solutions offered. Think, think again, then act.

2. The leader who can’t let it go is one who:

2.1 Has to have the last word

2.2 Is forensic in their analysis of their victimhood

2.3 Will recall until their dying day when someone may just have got the better of them AND seize an opportunity whether several days or years later to settle that score

So what can you do about this? Firstly recognise the signs. Observe their behaviour . Observe their behaviour with you and others. Study the environment you are in. What and whom surrounds this leader? Are you in an environment occupied by sycophants?   Is an alternative view encouraged? What happens when there are acute disagreements or perceived transgressions? Is listening and reflection part of the team culture encouraged by the leader? Or is his/her word always ‘law’? It’s unwise to go head to head with such individuals. If they are perceived to be the most powerful then it’s likely to result in you being ostracized (see no 1 above) by the group whether you remain in it or not. And don’t forget they will go to great lengths to show how you did them wrong and would have kept a blow by blow account of any given issue (see 2.2 above) however minor. The key is to be skilful enough to input without it being picked up as a direct challenge or an effort to undermine. There are other options like get the hell out of there but sometimes it’s hindsight that the best indicator of this option. Yep too late! You’re already a target! Ultimately know that you will not progress in such settings (if you had aspired to) and there will be constant attempts to remind you who is in charge and that things must be done their way.

Let THEM go!