I was the chair of the board of directors of a national corporation that provided financing and technical assistance for rural development projects. It was a board of diverse (Native American, Hispanic, African-American, Caucasian), brilliant, accomplished individuals who had backgrounds in finance, law, economic development and education. Two of the board members were later selected as MacArthur Fellows.
I had been board chair for two years and things were going well for the corporation. People benefited from the projects the corporation financed.
When I got a call from the corporation director saying two of his four employees resigned without notice I knew something was amiss. This was a surprise especially since they were the two most senior employees, had always received excellent work evaluations and were held in high esteem by all members of the board. Investigations and inquires revealed the employees left because the director defied the board's prohibition against taking a certain course of action related to a project.
I had allowed myself to become lost in leadership. I had not paid attention to signs that, in retrospect indicated the director was going off the rails. I was so impressed with some of the board members' strengths and reputations that I had not insisted that we all be accountable for our responsibilities as board members.
When we tried to decide how to handle the director's malfeasance sharp differences arose among the board members fueled by our cultural differences. The employees were mainly unsupervised, and all except one were at odds with the director for various reasons. In the meantime, there were issues related to the corporation's projects that required attention from the director and staff. Attempts to get the board to make decisions were unsuccessful as personal animosities began to surface. I had been unsuccessful in my attempts to bring the board together, decisions had to be made and I knew the employees were waiting to see what we would do to right the ship.
What was I to do? After a particularly difficult board meeting, I asked myself 3 questions: first, do all the board members have the same goals for the corporation; second, are all the board members working toward the same purpose and outcomes; third, can the board members do what is necessary to discipline the director, restore the staff's confidence in the board, and get the necessary work s? Answering those questions led me to a decision to work with the four board members I knew could accomplish what needed to be done. We approached the other four board members and asked them to resign. Three of them did. We terminated the director and replaced him with someone who was able to bring the staff together and right the ship.
That was my lesson that being lost in leadership does not have to be the end of your leadership path. The answer is realizing you are lost and finding a way to find your way.
Can you share an instance of leadership derailment that you were able to overcome?