It’s like a scene from a horror movie. You know the ones, with the slow moving zombies. The zombies all look the same, act the same, think the same. Actions are often unexplainable, inconsistent, and take you by surprise.
Suddenly, you need to watch your back.
A perfectly healthy, kind, and intelligent individual is bitten and they are turned into closed-off, uncommunicative, like-minded zombies.
They have joined the other side.
One group is now distinctly separated from the other – those that have been infected, and those that have not.
Whispers about how a friend or co-worker ‘used’ to be so great to be around, how open and friendly and human they used to be.
We mourn the loss of this friend and talk about how sad it is now that they have been infected by the others. How getting too close is fascinating, but no one wants to get bit.
Of course, just as with any great zombie movie, there is always that one group of individuals that will make sweeping proclamations about how, if they were to cross to the other side, they would be immune to it. They wouldn’t be infected.
They would be the hero!
Yet one by one as they inch closer to the other side their resistance wanes, their behaviours change, and they eventually become infected.
The ones that manage to escape this fate are the ones that move on.
They know that in order to remain safe they need to leave the area and put as much distance between themselves, and the others, as possible.
While corporate management may not look as dramatically gruesome as a horror film to the outside world, it certainly does have a number of parallels to the zombie thrillers we see on the big screen.
There may not be any actual biting going on, but there is definitely a fear of being infected.
We’ve all seen it happen at one time or another in our career. A colleague that we’ve worked with (sometimes for years) is promoted to a management position of some form, and they change.
They are exposed to the behaviours and opinions of those around them, for an extended period of time, and they become different people. They become infected with the mindset and organizational belief systems that their new peers hold up, perpetuate, and lead with.
Are they bad people? Do they intend to go into these new roles and decide to set aside their own values, beliefs, and previous leadership styles?
Some might, sure. But most don’t.
They change because they now have to ‘fit it’ with the other managers, directors, or executives that they interact with on a regular basis.
Unfortunately, they change because being an open, collaborative, empowering individual no longer works at a management level in most organizations.
The irony of course, is that most managers are sent on annual leadership training excursions where they learn the benefits, the ROI, and the value in acting in the very way they previously acted.
Yet none of them are confident enough to break from the pack and put these skills into action.
Instead, they are taught (through example) what the acceptable form of leadership is and what it is not. They are shown how other leaders before them got ahead in the organization, and the implied message is to follow suit if you want your career to go anywhere.
Otherwise great people, people who have the potential to be great leaders, are left to make a choice. They can either stay true to their values, or push them aside in an effort to exact self-preservation and follow the pack.
Be The Hero
Learning to lead effectively is hard work, and often times requires a lot of courage. It means making the tough decisions that no one else is brave enough to make.
It’s about having the confidence to lead through strong values, instead of taking the easier way out and following the status quo. Leading in a powerful way means that sometimes, despite the politics that infect the organizational culture, you need to go out on your own and stand for what is right.
Yes, in some organizations, this can have serious consequences. Doing the right thing can sometimes lead to good people losing their jobs.
But there is also an upside to the risk.
By sticking to your leadership values, and choosing to do things differently, your actions may not only set an example, but silently give OTHERS permission to lead through their values as well.
The act of leading with integrity, honesty, openness – humanness – can open the door for other leaders to follow suit. Pretty soon, with enough leaders living the example, the underlying culture can start to shift.
That’s a pretty big upside.
Does this shift happen overnight? No, of course not. But every film comes to an end and everyone needs a hero.