An Un-Fable: Harry the Aggrieved

Posted by jlubans on January 30, 2018

Caption: When all else fails.

I’ve been drafting a fable about Harry and how, for decades, he undermined his organization.
It was going to be a George Ade-style fable,
but, alas, the story would not gel; maybe because there was no comeuppance for Harry on which to post a moral for the fable.
OK, if not a fable, then what? I asked myself, why was Harry so disaffected? How did Harry benefit? What did he want?
That led to my thinking about followers.
In Kelley’s follower research, the alienated follower is said to be an
Independent thinker with a passive action orientation
The counterpart, the “Effective” or “Star” follower, is independent minded and action oriented in positive ways.
The Star followers I know are indeed original and innovative in thought; they see matters clearly, and possess and share their own vision (with the leader) for improving the organization.
I would differ with Kelley about Harry; he was not independent in thought but mostly dependent on groupthink, or what the “tradition” in the profession – the so-called collective wisdom - would have it be. As a dependent thinker, Harry relied exclusively on past thinking. New ideas always elicited a knee jerk negative, ever antithetical.
What about the claim that alienated followers are largely passive?
Well, Harry was, shall we say, actively passive.
He did not solve problems, he complicated them.
Metaphorically, if we tried to trade out wheels for gears or buttons for switches then Harry would come up with 25 reasons not to.
Alienated followers excel at listing reasons not to do something.
Harry’s “active passivism” was about undermining the leader and in convincing others (of the sheep and yes man variety) to side with him and not the leader.
He appeared to be “successful” in doing so. How can that be?
Is not a sorry case like Harry easily shown the door?
Not when there is weak leadership; and the leader chooses to avoid and accommodate Harry.
Harry fits the classic definition of the alienated follower:
“Typically pessimistic and cynical, he thinks ‘self over team’ and often criticizes leadership while playing the so-called devil’s advocate.”
How did Harry get that way?
Researchers say the alienated “may feel cheated or unappreciated by his organization. In the past he may have experienced setbacks or obstacles, perhaps promises broken by others.” Perhaps.
What I observed an a consultant to Harry's organization was that no one stood up to him or called his behavior; he had successfully cowed or silenced his co-workers.
But how did Harry become aggrieved? Likely, Harry was a bad hire.
In the haste to find someone or more likely to find someone with desired “qualifications”, Harry got the nod over someone with good emotional IQ and a willingness to work with others.
We are advised, “Leaders need to carefully find a common ground to satisfy the needs of the alienated. If done correctly, this type can very easily be molded into an effective follower.”
I think that is what the Harry’s boss tried to do, to feebly find “a common ground”. In Harry’s case this was an unwarranted but empowering concession, an accommodation that led to years of petty, debilitating behavior.
Some leaders have a much more direct way of dealing with the alienated, at least the incipient or wannabe: Confront, Crush and Discipline.
Unless, of course, you, like many of us including HR departments, are content to wait for Harry’s or your retirement!
My rough draft Harry fable did offer up an unlikely fix; after all, George Ade wrote in the era of the Hot Foot and similar practical jokes.
In that vein, our clandestine “Get Rid of Harry” campaign kicks off with the timeworn Buttered Doorknob to Harry’s office.
If you can work it in, use the Dirty Hand Soap gimmick.
And, make creative use of the Rubber Chicken so Harry starts looking over his shoulder.
The clincher? Insert a Whoopee Cushion into Harry’s designated chair at the next department heads meeting.
Once he settles in …. They’ll be talking about it for years!
You will have proven the adage: “Where you Stand Depends on Where you Sit.” Indeed.
So, when confrontation does not work, go to humor. It will make Harry less intimidating; the last thing an alienated follower wants is to be laughed at.

Karen Muller mentions Fables for Leaders in "American Libraries" in her column "How We Lead.". Click here.

© Copyright John Lubans 2018
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