When loyalty and commitment is driven by fear (20.10-1)

Posted by on Oct 8, 2020 in Culture

I was recently asked my opinion about the motivations of a long-serving senior manager who demonstrates an unwavering commitment to the organisation. He works long hours at both ends of the day; is rarely off work with illness; takes vacations routinely but not extensively.

The question was: what drives him after all these years to maintain this level of commitment to the organisation?

My assessment (and gauged through much observation and interaction): Fear.

This path to senior management was only possible with promotion through initial loyalty rather than future capability. His ability to manage a smaller entity was rewarded but, unfortunately, his capability failed to keep up with the demands of a growing business. His life is now spent playing the internal politics of appeasement and guardianship; he enforces the gate-keeper role where all information is channelled through him so he can release and control its dissemination without relinquishing power. He networks efficiently with members of executive and governance so as to gain a heads-up as to their stance and approach. Against this he can then position and promote his alignment and therefore continue to demonstrate his on-going loyalty.

What’s this got to do with fear? The fear is one of being exposed or caught unprepared, with a view that his capability will then be questioned. Hours are spent pre-empting questions, either complex or inconsequential; meetings are skipped where an agenda cannot be guaranteed as watertight with the risk of having to respond intuitively to the unexpected; processes are mirrored to those of the competition under the guise of “best practice”; subordinates check in for approvals and instructions at varying pressure points of the day. So the cycle continues; it is no longer about guarding the integrity of the organisation but the role and position of one self – it’s about survival.

Why has this not been noticed? Chances are it has, and if I’ve spotted it then surely others have, too. For some, this type of “loyalty” suits them. There’s no push back or resistance; there’s no challenge or contestation. The negative, of course, is that without these things there is no progress or passion.

Should retirement be reached there will be no thanks for maintaining this exhaustive protective layer; nor will the organisation collapse and suffer (as is likely to happen to the manager ahead of retirement). Instead, the “promotion of like” will continue and the cycle will repeat which begs the next question: Where is the leader in all of this?