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Addressing the Elephant in the Team: Dysfunctional Leadership Team Behaviors

5 min read

Our global leadership experts discuss dysfunctional leadership team behaviors and why a process of leadership reconciliation often releases a stronger performance.

Such behaviors create a drag on leadership teams’ ambitions, progress or performance - the 'elephants' - and are often allowed to persist. Some are subtle or responsive, while others are intentional and block alliances.

A leadership team with dysfunctional behavior is unable to fully engage in healthy discussion and debate, hindering effective decision-making and leading to ripple effects beyond the team. Individual leaders avoid certain topics or other leaders entirely, and conflict goes unresolved while stress grows. A member of the team may manifest a particularly domineering leadership style, and their overassertive behavior is not called out or is ignored. Other leaders might be less open, less able to provide constructive counterpoints or ideas, or conversely other leaders respond in kind, and useful, productive debate turns into unproductive heated exchanges. The ability to collaborate in making decisions becomes severely reduced and the business suffers as a result.

When not addressed, the causes of these behaviors can be masked and labeled as diversity of perspectives. Often, these dysfunctional behaviors are relationship-based as a result of perceived offenses, lack of appreciation or recognition, and where these behaviors are entrenched they can be emotionally charged. Almost always, the whole leadership team is aware of the frictions and disruptive behaviors - the 'elephants' - but is not equipped to address them in a constructive manner. 

Addressing these behaviors and their causes involves carefully and appropriately acknowledging their existence and impact, and processing them until diversity of perspectives and positions are reconciled.

Andrew Rodgers Principal, Leadership Advisory

Given the emotional energies, leadership team reconciliation should be conducted in a psychologically safe environment with the appropriate expertise.

Done effectively, the benefits of reconciliation can be nothing short of game-changing for the leadership team and the wider business.

Why is leadership team reconciliation important?

Strong performing leadership teams are formed around unity, collaboration, and trust in relationships. Reconciliation re-establishes all three. It binds leaders together through a shared process that is cathartic and enriching. For the leadership team with the domineering member, the reconciliation process can lead to the other members of that team being able to bring more of their authentic selves to discussions. As a result, they can apply more of their intellect, can be more curious, more engaged, more vulnerable, and more positive-outcomes driven.

These leadership teams are better equipped to tackle difficult challenges facing the business, and know they have the capability to make mistakes and recover from them. Simply put, they are better equipped to engage with the successes and manage the messes which creative ambition generates.

Reconciled leadership teams also lead to greater connection with the business, becoming the sort of leaders who are people-centric, aligned on purpose, and unified on goal accomplishment. They exhibit the core traits of leaders capable of meeting future challenges.

How to engage in leadership team reconciliation

Leadership team unification through reconciliation is a process of identifying the disruptive behaviors, reviewing and addressing the root issues, and letting them go. This kind of open discussion cultivates a safe environment.

Leaders undertake honest self-reflection, receive feedback, and are offered the opportunity to make a conscious commitment to change dysfunctional behaviors. Dominating or disengaged leaders can find the courage to acknowledge the impact of their behavior, explore the causes, seek forgiveness and be given the support to change and operate at their best through a non-judgemental process.

Frustration is replaced by ambition, intentional behaviors, courageous decision making, and an optimized, collaborative leadership team. As a result, their performance becomes recognized by the organization and even sometimes the competition. In short, 'elephants' are returned to the wild, freeing a team to operate more effectively.

This reconciliation approach can be the foundation of a broader mindset transformation in the team. Leadership teams go from negative, unproductive thinking, to positive, productive self-belief. The METAMIND approach is a disciplined method which supports individuals and the team to elevate their perspectives so they can address ongoing business challenges, transformations, or ambitious strategies. 

Get in touch. Follow the links below to discover more, or contact our dedicated leadership experts from your local Odgers Berndtson office here

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