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Managerial Schizophrenia

Updated: Jul 27, 2018

Managers are often in situations where they need to choose postures, take initiatives and make decisions. It is in this context that they may be judged inconsistent or unappreciated when it comes to what they do and what they had said they could and wanted to do. I do not speak, of course, of a transient character or of reactions specific to situations, but rather of habits which gradually settle into managerial practices. Managerial schizophrenia becomes so chronic that some managers suffer from it without them being aware of it.

The "schizophrenia" represented by this discordance between promises and decisions on the one hand and managerial actions on the other hand can take many forms, but let me share with you practical cases that I have personally noted when accompanying missions which I have had the opportunity to perform over several years. These cases generally present practices which will certainly remind you of situations you have experienced yourself in your career.

The aim here is to invite you to become aware of these types of discomfort so you can avoid and correct them. For illustrations purpose, in the examples which follow, 'I' is the manager, and 'you' is the employee.

  • Schizophrenic Case 1: Do what I say, BUT do not do what I did!

  • Schizophrenic Case 2: Take the initiative, BUT stay in someone's shadow.

  • Schizophrenic Case 3: I take my time to decide, BUT you, do not take any time to adopt and implement what I am telling you.

  • Schizophrenic Case 4: I succeed because I am versatile and generalist, BUT you must be a specialist to succeed.

Let's look at the first two cases as they are the most common.

Schizophrenic Case 1: Do what I say, BUT do not do what I did!

In a non-profit professional association, a new president took the reins of governance. Right after his appointment, he demanded the presence of all members of the board of directors of the association at the weekly meetings and threatens to expel those who do not show up. A few weeks after the threatening speech, he did apply his threat by expelling 3 of the oldest members out of the 12 board directors. The impact was virulent and global on all employees and members of the association. Some members openly protested the practices and skills of the new president by signing a petition defending other supporters of the association. Other members talked ill of the president's corruption and unhealthy practices which ran counter to the association's reputation and the values it upheld. All the signs pointed to a crisis which had got out of hand and created a real division between members. Why had we reached this level of crisis? Make no mistake, we weren't dealing with an inability to handle conflict, or a lack of communication skills. It was first and foremost a question of exemplarity. Prior to becoming president, when he was a simple member, the gentleman in question attended very few meetings. Attendance had not been his strong point.

Moreover, during informal meetings or official meetings, he did not hesitate to insist on the need to recruit permanent staff and to plan for the cost of such recruitment in annual budgets, claiming this would relieve volunteers of the burden of contributions, especially those of an administrative order. When he became president, his behaviour was inconsistent with what he had said and defended earlier. The question which deserves to be asked is: If this president did not respect practices, or at least challenge their relevance, when he was a simple member, why did he insist on sanctioning the non-respect of these same practices once president? Be careful, do not ask your associates to do what you say as their superior while punishing them if they do what you did when you were their colleague.

Schizophrenic Case 2: Take the initiative, BUT stay in someone's shadow.

In an organization advocating "proactivity" as a discourse reforming "stagnant" team culture, a business unit director initiated a senior executive recruitment program to expand his teams. He was very enthusiastic about incorporating talent into his teams and would repeatedly trumpet at executive meetings a reformist speech promoting innovation and the need to bring in talent and new blood to the organization. That said, after the recruitment of the first batch of these new executives, all interactions reflected a particular atmosphere that was widely and quickly felt during the first meetings and presentations. Indeed, the new recruits understood very quickly that they were not to challenge the director in front of their colleagues, or outshine him in the presence of employees from other units. How could these executives release their creative energy if they knew for a fact that they would be blamed if they talked too much or if they took the initiative of suggesting ideas in the presence of their colleagues or members from other departments?

How could these managers be innovative if their only concern was to avoid overshadowing their own manager? The question that needs to be asked is: If managers do not want to be overshadowed, why are they recruiting smart people, only to be disappointed when these people do not deliver their best in terms of performance or if they are not as innovative as they thought they were to be when they were hired?

What needs to be understood is that some reformist practices and discourses, like innovation and proactivity, require managers to develop a prerequisite: open-mindedness, transparency of everyone's expectations and intervention perimeters, and the managerial ability to mobilize collective intelligence.

Other cases of managerial schizophrenia:

Schizophrenic Case 3: I take my time to decide, BUT you, do not take any time to join and implement what I am telling you.

In a multinational company, headquarters managers were taking several months to make decisions about choices and solutions to be deployed by teams in the managed countries. The feeling of managers' teams was that these decisions took a lot of time and dragged on for insane reasons. Worst of all, once the decisions were finally made, results and deliverables were required with very short deadlines and the sentence 'we need it for yesterday' became excessively used. Why did headquarters demand unrealistic turnaround times when they were not, themselves, effective in terms of delivery of decisions? If they wanted a commitment, they needed to reflect it in the image they convey. If we take our time to think without worrying about impacted people or try involving them, clearly nothing good will come of it. In turn, staff will spend more time than the manager would like thinking only about implementing. So, why should one be surprised by uncommitted staff if their manager takes time to think while he does not give the time for reflection to those who will implement his decision?

Schizophrenic case 4: I succeed because I am versatile and generalist, BUT you must be a specialist to succeed.

In a computer development company, some managers hammered their interlocutors with a speech defending the need for resources to specialize more and more in one of the domains of skills. By reinforcing this paradigm of specialization, HR departments were recruiting only specialists to continue pushing them towards specializations. The issue lay in the fact that these managers were themselves generalists and build their legitimacy on their ability to manage profiles and expectations from very different horizons. All executives within this organization were aware that managers succeeded thanks to their diversified experience, their benchmark spirit, and their ability to adapt to various expertise. That said, we only ask employees to specialize in order to succeed. How could anyone motivate staff in a similar context when they see only inconsistency in this message?

Looking through all the above cases, you’ve come to recognize the manifestations of managerial schizophrenia, as well as the extent of its damage: demotivation, low loyalty, and massive employee disengagement. Managers are the main pillar of engagement but can also be actors of disengagement which ruins organizations. This finding was well highlighted by Marcus Buckingham in his famous quote "People leave [bad] managers, not [bad] companies"

Farid Yandouz


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