I often meet businesses where they innovate their products much more quickly than they innovate their business, and they stagnate. They’re not on time for markets. Their leadership is old-fashioned. Their cooperation is fragmented in siloes. The commercial function and the innovation function don’t work together. I help businesses fix that in 28 weeks.
One of the things I want to talk about today is the importance of taking accountability as a leader.
I have a client who has recently bought a business from someone else, in a community of professionals. He is a brilliant guy. Very good at what he does, an experienced leader, an experienced CFO in other businesses. And he took on this business with enthusiasm.
The person who sold the business to him had said that they were going to retire, and that they were happy to leave their business behind in safe hands. They made a deal, both professionally and financially. As soon as the deal was done the seller started to agitate.
Agitation and intrigue damage business
Agitation is when you start to push against the leadership boundary. And in some way, sabotage, undermine or take over the leadership.
This other person also started intrigue. Intrigue means that you start to undermine the relationship and the boundaries between the members. What it means in practice is you start to gossip and you start to undermine the safety of belonging. All in all, this behaviour escalated into an ethical problem, and perhaps even a legal problem.
The business my client bought was starting to suffer. Clients were leaving, not because the business was bad, but because they didn’t want to be involved in a fight.
People who sell and regret it afterwards are not unique. In some ways, if you’re an entrepreneur and you’ve built up a business for a long time, it’s your baby. And to let your baby go and pass it on, is a difficult ask, is a really big ask.
To do that with grace is very, very difficult and is very seldom.
The question I ask myself in this case is what is the responsibility of the professional community around this business? Because as I said, my client bought a business in a tight-knit community of professionals where everybody knows everybody else. And as one of the professionals in that community, I really ask myself what is it that I’m responsible for in this situation? And what is it that I’m accountable for?
For me, when you’re leader in a community, you are accountable not only for your own actions, but perhaps also as a representative of that leadership, you are accountable for the behaviour of other leaders in that system. I am very aware that this is a controversial way of seeing it. For me, when someone in the community is also a leader, and I’m a leader in that community, as a representative of leadership, we have a duty to speak and we have a duty to apologize.
Because if we don’t speak, who will speak for us in the end?
Read more: Business innovation – Creating team cohesion
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Sari van Poelje has 30 years experience of innovation on the interface of leadership and organizational development, executive coaching and transactional analysis both as a director within several multinationals and as an international consultant. Specialization in creating agile leadership teams and business innovation! She is the author of numerous articles and books on leadership and change.