Forces Derailing Leadership: Effects and Consequences
By Felix E. De Jesus, Adjunct Professor of Global Management, Leon Hess Business School, Monmouth University, New Jersey
Many strong leaders are discovered in moments of crisis. They are, all of the sudden, catapulted to the top by major events or extraordinary circumstances. But leaders at the highest level operate in challenging and sometimes hostile environments, influenced by powerful forces unleashed to sabotage their performances.
We should never forget the achievements of some heroic American leaders during different crises in history and their battles against powerful forces of the times: President Franklin D. Roosevelt during the Great Depression; presidents George W. Bush and Barack H. Obama during the 2008-9 financial crisis and the Great Recession, and locally, Governor Wanda Vázquez Garced in the aftermath of a constitutional crisis in Puerto Rico.
These courageous individuals excelled in moments of crisis when their high-level leadership qualities were manifested effectively under maximum pressure. They exercised sound judgement, made effective decisions and communicated eloquently to reinstate order and normalcy.
Generally speaking, leaders at the highest levels, especially in public office, are entrusted to manage organizations and the government of countries for their accolades and attributes. The enormous responsibilities and expectations vested on them are driven by their reputation for bringing rigor to the business of securing consensus, cutting deals, and winning concessions.
Forces at Play
The forces influencing the performance of leaders can be grouped in two major categories; internal—as private and personal; external—as those imposed by society.
At a personal level, gifted leaders have the ability to manage internal forces exercising constant pressure on them—battles with inner demons—trying to dominate their: emotions, biases, beliefs and the understanding of their own limitations. Winning those battles is paramount to mental clarity and to the exercise of good judgement.
Prof. Andrew Likierman, a global authority on leadership from the London Business School, elaborated in a recent article for the Harvard Business Review on the great expectations people have of leaders of high-level caliber. He mentioned that “when people around the table turn to them, what they’re looking for is good judgement—an interpretation of the evidence that points to the right choice.”
On the other hand, external forces are more powerful, invasive and potentially destructive to leaders. Forces that seem to germinate from within political systems influenced sometimes by individuals with lower levels of integrity and moral values. These precarious political forces routinely develop Machiavellian tactics intended to destroy the reputation of established leaders. Foes are relentless in their harmful intentions and their tactics are spread like viruses by pundits to confuse the public.
I can attest to the destructive power of those forces after serious reflection over hundreds of personal business decisions, over an array of negotiation exchanges, and the recollection of dealings with powerful politicians during my career.
External Forces in Action
Powerful external forces are unleashed at a strategic moment in time and act like “mine fields” full of traps intentionally laid to inflict the maximum amount of damage.
Forces – Planned Distractions: Machiavellian tactics could be released utilizing many vehicles. By: filing of unfounded lawsuits, announcing the beginning of frivolous investigations, making public false accusations, sabotaging the deployment of important projects, or by writing articles with a line of argument that is probably not sustainable in a public forum against leaders. The intention is not necessarily to win a case or an argument against a targeted leader; it is instead about creating doubts in people’s minds about an opponent’s: credibility, reputation and integrity in the eyes of public opinion.
The Trap – Derailing Focus of Leaders: Traps are planted to abruptly distract targeted leaders by forcing them to immediately focus on their defense, instead of handling the important issues at hand—especially when they’re already doing a good job. Foes exert pressure to cause targeted leaders to make mistakes at critical moments, and then they allude to leadership weakness.
Unfortunately, successful external attacks could be very damaging and sometimes lethal to the launch of desired careers and for those already in positions of trust, the possibility of ending them as well.
When powerful external forces succeed in derailing leadership, they prevent people from identifying the real values of legitimate leaders. A wasted opportunity of selecting the type of individuals that we want guiding our institutions in times of mediocrity, chaos and confusion; leaders with proven capacity to perform efficiently in moment of crises and beyond.
When external forces succeed in derailing independent political-thinking leadership, we have also wasted the unique opportunity of selecting leaders with the capacity and mandate to restructure dysfunctional political systems. If not, we’ll be perpetuating the current vicious cycle of “business-as-usual politics.” The Triumph of Politics!
Not only my professional experience, expertise and academic research about the dynamics and challenges of leading corporations have motivated me to write this article, but also the honest desire to share light on how to identify and select the best leaders—the individuals who we deserve and want making decisions at institutions impacting our lives for generations to come.