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What To Do When Your Leader Is Wrong

Updated: Jul 23, 2022

Leaders who struggle to be secure in their own leadership abilities on one hand, and maximize effectiveness on the other, often experience great levels of frustration. They may have a plan, they may have a vision, and they may have a great team. But their own leader, the CEO or president, may be terribly wrong.

In some recent conversations with leaders at the helm of an organization, it has become apparent that the CEO is dead set on a path that is well, wrong.

After a course of action that had been given great consideration, vetted for potential obstacles, based on the best thinking of the C-suite executives, was ready to be implemented for the benefit for all the stakeholders, it was denied.

The executives wondered if their collective brainstorming was way off course. But after running the scenario past trusted thought leaders and colleagues, they determined it was not. In fact, it was determined that the process, path, and project is one that will clearly benefit all parties and the organization.

Still, the top dog said “No Go,” resulting in the abandonment of desperately needed change. And this wasn’t the first

Photo: Courtesy of Wix Media time. There’s been a pattern of these ideas being stifled. Not always, but more often than should be the case. This shutdown by the CEO is often on the grounds that he should have been consulted from the inception. His position has been that his input should be sought prior to any project or process being drafted. This opinion has also be followed up with his commentary suggesting it wasn’t a good idea, that’s not how things have been done, or that it’s not where they need to spend their energies and time. In other words, check with me first.

Message delivered.

Whether there's an underlying reason that will not be shared as to why he vetoed the change, or simply because of his ego getting in the way, by all accounts he's wrong.

The unspoken message is clear.

“I'm in charge, you will do what I want you to do.

“Your ideas are not good enough.”

“Your work will not have the impact that I, the CEO want it to have.”

When executives hit their heads against this leader's wall, they’re forced to walk back down the stairs and deliver the news to their team that the hard work was for naught. And when this is the case, it can create a culture of frustration and estrangement, along with loss of self-esteem and courage for the executives.

After experiencing this cycle multiple times, the demeanor of the executives bore signs of capitulation and tired resignation. They’re on the frontlines. Should they continue the good fight knowing their leader is wrong? Or should they pack up their desks and find something better.

In our pursuit of a solution, we begin a journey back to the beginning. To put it another way, we work together as a team, the leaders and I, to find the best path to where they once were—happy, engaged, enthused, and excited about their future. While this isn’t easy, and it may involve some risk taking, it’s a path well worn. In other words, many have gone before and will go after. But when you're able to manage up a leader who is wrong, more often than not, you become resilient and stronger in your own leadership.

The second thing that is done after establishing there's a desire for better, is embark on a deep understanding of what better looks like. What would work for you and for your team? How will you know when you achieved the desired better state? What would we see if we measured, photographed or video recorded relevant aspects of the organization? If you commit to staying and improving people, processes, products, policies, and profits, then you must realize that how you communicate this to your CEO must come through clearly. In coaching, we spend quite a bit of time on critical communication and influence. Only by building up these skills will you be able to navigate the ‘No’s’ and re-orient the thinking to garner more “Yes’s.”

Finally, the culture element is tackled. While the CEO, or any other naysaying executive team member, may filter down continued objections, you need to learn how to mitigate and deflect them. If you allow their negative influence to bleed out into your demeanor, your team or your clientele, you risk major loss. You must find delicate ways to revisit and discuss the important matter of your core values and guiding principles. Here is where you examine the significance of respect, professionalism, and teamwork in building a cohesive and high-performing leadership team and organization.

In summation, it’s a tough journey. It's one that's not any more difficult than the one that got you where you are in the first place. But it’s a different journey. It’s one that builds your resilience and influence as you thoughtfully pick your battles, learn to artfully manage up, and help your leader see the error of their ways.

When you’re able to step into that mindset and skill, not only will your career soar but your confidence and happiness will too. Are you ready?

Renwick Brutus' career has spanned roles as research economist, investment advisor, entrepreneur and consultant. He holds an MBA from Fordham University and has been recognized for his outstanding achievement in sales and business leadership. Today, Renwick applies his unique blend of business strategy and interpersonal skills to help individuals prosper and companies grow. He owns multiple companies and is in great demand to consult with business leaders. Contact him by email and LinkedIn .

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