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Why do leaders pick a fight?

Blair McPherson

A provocative stance taken by the organisation leaders presents HR with a number of challenges. The first being to understand why. Contributor Blair McPherson Former Director of Community Services, author and blogger.

Why would a chief executive or leader of a council pick a fight with their staff?  Why would the leader claim that there was not enough support for the changes when there had been few moans or complaints? Why would the chief executive use provocative language when referring to staff, “turkeys don’t vote for Christmas”? Why would the leader provoke the unions by dismissing them and their,” ideological objections” as irrelevant saying they were powerless to stop the changes, even if this was the reality?

Why would the chief executive say there was no point in consultation as the decision had already been made, even if this was the case? Why would the leader’s blog sarcastically thank staff for their support over unpopular changes? Why would a chief executive or council leader pick a fight with their own staff?

It may come across as arrogance and over confidences or over sensitivity and defensiveness but it is much more likely to be tactics. Perhaps they are seeking to misdirect the audience’s attention. Perhaps they are seeking the approval of voters or to wrong foot the local critical media by saying yes we agree our staff are resistant to change and thus preparing the way for outsourcing services!

Perhaps they are attempting to put distance between themselves and the previous administration, an administration that was seen as weak. May be the macho rhetoric is all about appeasement, pleasing the Department of Communities and  Local  Government, all part of a bigger strategy for gaining regional powers.

It could be down to personality and leadership style but it probably isn’t. Anyone who has climbed the greasy pole to lead a council is prepared to play good cop/bad cop and instinctively knows which to play when. I have heard such individuals say that if they are not upsetting staff they are not doing their job.

Meaning bring about significant improvements means taking staff out of their comfort zones. But it’s more complicated than that it’s about the wider agenda in which directly employed staff are only one of the players and no longer one of the major players. The focus is increasingly on citizens and voters as opposed to service users and staff.

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