As global leader of several strategic clients for a major international corporation I often wondered what inhibited my own effectiveness. When I made my rounds to the local offices my first question about relationship with the local client always drew the same answer: it is excellent. The only variance was the descriptor used: splendid, couldn’t be better, we love each other, there is nothing to worry about.
Subsequently and when meeting the client more than once a different picture emerged. Why? Had the client just waited for an opportunity to see me and unleash his discomfort? Had he reason to be disloyal? Did he not bother to tell them the truth? Or had my own people suffered from self-delusion?
It didn’t take long to figure out it was the latter in most cases. Each agency person believes that he or she is the best in the business. It’s in their genes. And there is nothing wrong with it because it motivates and drives people to excel. But that gene has one critical dysfunction: it does not allow for self-critique. So self-defense mechanisms set in when mistakes occur.
Don’t get me wrong. Mistakes we all make and someone who doesn’t allow for them to happen will never be a good leader. It matters only how you deal with them. The problem is; when you don’t know your people have made a mistake or when nobody tells you, you will suffer as a leader from the self defence mechanism of your own troops.
In years of studying this phenomenon I have uncovered three fundamental motives for self-defense in this order:
- The problem will disappear by itself
- The problem can be handled alone without involving others
- The client has so many other things to worry about the problem will soon be forgotten
To avoid getting trapped by people’s inability to properly deal with problems or issues I devised my own little routine and found a way of staying in touch with strategic clients without denigrating the role of my local colleagues.
But I wonder whether other people had similar experiences and how they handled it. Incidentally, I do not believe that the problem of self-defence is limited to agencies. It is as universal as the human race.