Can a leader make or break an organisation?

L ARUNA DHIR

More times than not, the shape and personality an organization falls into directly depend on the dominant traits of the top leader at its helm. So whether the top dog is fair, biased, aggressive, assimilative, open-minded and inclusive or clique and coterie centered, insecure or confident, the organization tends to take on similar features and harbour the climate that screams of the same defining set of behavioural facets.

Leadership Key to Healthy Organization

In one’s career history, while growth and better opportunity are often the crucial reasons for moving out from one and into another organization, the other main reason that seldom gets talked about openly is a huge sense of disenchantment or dissatisfaction or unhappiness stemming from a sour equation with an immediate boss or the super boss or the politically charged peer group that makes it difficult for one to perform optimally. Complicated and unreasonable bosses or a set of ogre-like colleagues is in fact a bigger, often unspoken reason for people to move and seek greener pastures elsewhere. Several HR studies, globally, have proved this fact time and again. 

In the early 1990s, as a young, sprightly fresher with rose-tinted glasses I joined the Public Affairs Section of a Diplomatic Mission in Delhi. This was my second job and I had often heard that it was Asians who were more clique-y, gossipy, with inherent biases and prone to apple-polishing. So, imagine my astonishment when I found some of my Western colleagues as guilty as their Asian counterparts. My first reaction was, “Hell, Here too!” And the second reaction post some thought, “We all are the same beneath the veneer.”

My first boss here was a grouchy, somewhat mean, cranky man given to favouritism and unpleasant disposition.  He was tendentious towards one single person – obviously his favourite – instead of treating the entire team fairly; so much so that this person embodied the same attributes as the boss, adding extra doses of her viciousness to it. At one time when I was working along with her, she would rejoice in giving me some of the most menial tasks – “just do the filing,” “get me connected to so and so on the phone,” – and had the audacity to keep the official files hidden away and stashed under lock and key lest I lay my hands on them even when I had to file. Mind you, this was no confidential data but the ludicrous behaviour continued, fanned by the boss’ strong inclination towards this person that allowed for many such unprofessional acts to flourish in the department.

Then one day this boss was transferred out and in came a breath of fresh air in the form of a youthful, dynamic lady who brought in a sea change in the department in terms of how we viewed PR work, how we regarded each other as colleagues, how our work was perceived by other departments and the parent Government we had to report back to.

What came across bright and clear were two different modes of leadership, two distinct personalities who contributed in their own way to the manner the department looked, breathed, felt and delivered.

While one was a negative influence, the other used her high standard of skills, fine leadership style, fair & equal opportunity approach to make every work day a fun and productive day and ended up turning the Public Affairs Department into a highly respected and sought after department in the High Commission.

Leaders can Make or Break an Organization

My next stint for a period of more than a decade and a half has been with hotels. Now, hotels are completely multicultural organizations where the work force is truly international, hailing from different countries; but of course the largest base is of the countrymen from the place where the hotel is located. Yet, in hotels it becomes extremely pertinent to know how to work together with people from as far and wide as France and Germany to Sri Lanka and China. Despite the cultural differences, this ends up adding lot of fun elements to one’s day in the life of the organization as you end up learning about these cultures and understanding what makes the ‘other’ people tick. This, however, is subject matter of another discourse.

In hotels, while the owner or the CEO of the hotel chain is the defining personality, the GM of the unit hotel where you may work is the lord of his own fiefdom. The team and staff pick out from this leader’s personality aspects and way of running his hotel as much as the top boss’ style percolates down.

On hindsight, having worked with six different GMs across three hotel chains, I have been fortunate to sometimes thrive and at times strive & struggle in as many organizational climates. And where there has been striving, it really has been a battlefront that has made one as hard as a rock, yet more understanding of the complexities and dynamics of a fire-pit organization.

It has also brought home the point that leaders can really make or break an organization. Not just what corporate literature may tell you, from personal experience, too, I can list out the following:

  1. The organization can be a happy and fun place to which you look forward to returning every morning and to which you willingly want to give extra hours at the end of the day. Such organizations create an overriding sense of job engagement and satisfaction.
  2. It can be such that each day, nay, moment is difficult to pass with an impossible boss breathing menacingly down your neck; and wicked set of colleagues rubbing their hands in malicious glee every time they pull you down like the proverbial crab.
  3. The organization can be healthy, conducive to work with unsurpassed functionality and highly ethical work practices. Responsibilities and recognition, exemplary output and rewards go hand in hand in such places.
  4. It can be sick, divisive, undermining and demoralizing. What might get you ahead is hoodwinking and proximity to the influential people like the bosses or the boss’ right hand man; even if such easily ill-gotten prizes are short-lived and open to scrutiny.
  5. The organization can be a place that allows you to blossom as a star worker with positive strokes that help germinate your skills and talent into wonderful fruits of productivity.
  6. It can also be a place where there is so much of negative energy that all that can flower there is more bad blood splattered about by parasitic employees who eat into the climate.  
  7. The organization can be a place where workers breathe in fresh air, enjoy positive influences, are allowed space to make mistakes and grow, have access to information, become a two way process in clear communication and are given learning opportunities.
  8. Then there are organizations that live in the dark zone of fear, punishment, connivance and control. They operate like secret missions where unnecessary stuff is hidden and kept out of reach of the employees thereby acting as major impediment in the processes and execution of duty.
  9. There are healthy and buzzing organizations that promote good work practices, innovation and creativity and encourage workers to take ownership of their actions.
  10. And there are organizations where flattery, manipulation, bad performances, terrible attitudes and overall downward slope in almost all areas rule the roost. 

It is widely seen that the top man maneuvering the reins of the Organization can really lead by example, allowing for the finest personal and professional traits and benchmarked business best practices to shape the organization into an exemplary company; that boasts happy, engaged and optimally delivering team.

L Aruna Dhir

L Aruna Dhir

L. Aruna Dhir is a seasoned Corporate Communications Specialist, PR Strategist and Writer who has taken a time-bound sabbatical, after holding the position of the Director – Public Relations at The Imperial New Delhi, in order to work on three books – on Public Relations & Communications, Food and India respectively. At The Imperial Aruna was part of the core group and was responsible for re-launching The Imperial as one of the finest hotels in India and Asia. Prior to her tenure at The Imperial, Aruna was working with The Oberoi, New Delhi heading their Public Relations & Communications Department for a period of three and a half years. Aruna's hotel experience includes handling the Marketing Communications and Public Relations portfolio for Hyatt Regency Delhi before her association with the Oberoi Group. L. Aruna Dhir's work experience also includes a four year long stint with the Australian High Commission in the capacity of Media Relations Officer, where among other exciting projects she successfully worked on Australia-India New Horizons – Australia's largest ever Country Promotion. Aruna has been engaged in freelance work for Doordarshan – the Indian National Television, All India Radio and Times FM.