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Blog: Above the Fray or Head in the Sand?

Leadership Journey Levels:

A few years ago, I was working with a leader who was a department head as well as a member of the organization’s executive team. This leader had a healthy department with positive attitudes, good communication and strong relationships; however, several of the other departments within this organization were not so fortunate. There were many challenges going on in other departments from high turnover, continued gossip, poor communication and lack of trust, just to name a few.

When the conversation would turn to the challenges other departments within the organization were having, this leader would often say, “I am taking the high road and choose to stay out of the drama”. At first blush this seemed very noble; however, the challenge was that the “drama”, so to speak, was real and the other teams were quickly becoming dysfunctional.


When you serve on an executive team, you do not have the luxury of only concerning yourself with your department. As an executive leader you should recognize your responsibility not only to your own department, but to the entire organization. It is similar to being in a family, where you cannot (or should not) choose to stay at work all day/night to avoid the drama your spouse is dealing with at home when your teenager wants to take the car to a party at a fraternity house and “hang out” with 21 year olds. Unfortunately this happens all the time and greatly affects the entire family. Likewise, an executive leader cannot (should not) only concern themselves with their little “corner of the world” in the organization. This may seem like an extreme parallel but it is a true parallel that repeatedly happens in both the personal and professional worlds.

Leadership is different from management in many ways. One of those is making choices to be engaged in the entire organization. Leadership is recognizing that when “drama” is going on in one department, it will quickly become unruly if it is not dealt with. The “drama” you are taking the “high road” on will eventually reach your “happy” department… and eventually other departments. The “drama” (or unsolved personnel challenges) will begin to erode the culture and ultimately affect the bottom line.

Taking the high road can be noble and there are times when it is appropriate. As a leader, you need to identify the difference between the “high road” and a “head in the sand” mentality which is really ignoring the problems you do not want to deal with, or you think do not affect “your team”. As an executive leader you have a team/department that you lead, and the entire organization is a part of that team.


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