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One vs two: The challenges of being together!!

By G. Balasubramanian

In late sixties when I was a student in the university in my post-graduate classes, I was shocked to find how the Head of the Department was treating his immediate successor, though the man second in command was much more knowledgeable, internationally recognized, soft, humble, and humane. Even the basic privileges were denied, and one could find a huge gap between the resource supports enjoyed by both. Further, anyone who had a good liaison with the second was victimized for no reason in someway or the other.

Later as I entered the profession, I had seen several organizations where such challenges, conflicts, inequities existed in one form or the other. If closely analyzed, one could find some common factors that contributed to such issues. Yes, one vs Two – the duel creates a lot of instability in the organization leading to multiple issues like division among staff, playing one group against the other, gossip mongering, indecisions, poor results and the like. The damage caused to the institutions both in the short term and long term are so heavy that it takes years to rebuild and position the organization to normalcy and growth.

Some reasons that contribute to the conflict One Vs Two:

1. Arrogance of Power – In a few organizations the authority associated with the positions makes a few persons blind and they feel that they need to keep the ‘next’ person under control, so that they are secure. On most occasions, such unscrupulous desires to control persons rather than engage with them in a productive and focused manner creates dissent. ‘controls’ tend to affect the self-esteem and free will of the people who are otherwise competently and consciously engaged with the system. The expression of words, actions and directions ignoring or hurting the self-esteem of the second in command often leads to such trends in cascade affecting the entire lines of operation.

2. Mistrust – Oftentimes, the command at the top feels that one needs to be so vigilant that no one in the organization is to be trusted. This is, again born out of extreme fear, insecurity, and lack of self-confidence in the person. They tend to examine every action of the second line with a sense of doubt and see meanings and reasons which are neither obvious nor intended. This leads to curtailing the operational freedom of the other person, centralizing the power with a heavy top-down approach. It tends to reduce the passion, the commitment, and the energy level of the second making them feel ‘to let things go.’

3. Incompetence – There are cases where an individual occupies a position without even optimal competencies required for the position. Their fear for loss of acknowledgement, low self-esteem, inability to cope with emerging knowledge and skills, fear of getting exposed makes them to take ‘offensive stands’ against the immediate successors who are more competent and skilled. Efforts to silence them through demotivation, isolation, and contempt with a focus to drive them away from the organization leads to successive conflicts creating a rough weather in the working environment.

4. Finding the bypass – There are a few top leaders who have their own designs and would not like to share the same with their immediate subordinates but would like to bypass and engage with and delegate the work and responsibilities to people down in the line. In this way, they tend to send a message that ‘I can work even without you’ thereby creating a deficit in goodwill and trust, often triggering others to react aggressively, negatively, and emotionally. Such reactions are further used to frame people to keep them under control or to show them the gates to exit.

There could be more reasons for such attitudinal issues in the conflicts that prevail at the top levels of an organization. Conflicts could also be from the level two of the organization creating challenges for the leadership. A few examples are below:

1. Leadership changes

There are a few organizations when a leader is appointed who brings a fresh perspective to the organizational structure in line with the changes that happen in the field concerned. They tend ‘to break the rules,’ ‘remove the curtains,’ ‘demolish the walls’ and want to ensure more transparency and accountability into the system. In such cases there is a resistance from the level two of the organization who have serviced for longer times on a ‘straight jacket approach.’ They feel threatened to changes and being marginalized for their irrelevance. This is effectively countered by creating problems and roadblocks to the number one.

2. Lack of recognition

In a few organizations people do raise up in cadre and reach the top levels. However, when it comes to the senior most leadership positions, people are planted who do not have any experience in the field. “De facto” and “De jure” operations come to play. Such situations do create avoidable conflict between the first and the second leaders in the organization. “Power Play” often results in conflicts leading to instability in the organization. The top leader neither has knowledge to acknowledge and appreciate the second in line, nor do they have professional wherewithal to engage with them for mutual support and growth.

3. Inequity in compensations

I have seen several organizations wherein there is a huge gap in compensations, rewards, and other facilitations between the one and the two. Though efforts are made to explain the same in terms of status, responsibility, connections, branding and the like, this appears as one of the triggers for the conflicts between the first and the second line in the organization. In some organizations, managements tend to stop their contact with level one and sending a message that they are just hierarchical.

No organization should encourage, support, or let such situations exist so that the health of the organization suffers. Periodical and diverse engagement of the management team should focus on collective, collaborative and connected engagements in decision making and problem solving. Leadership should be celebrated as a collective exercise to provide equal, meaningful, and facilitative growth opportunities for all. It must be understood that one- two are just numbers in an organization for differentiated but synergetic growth of the organization.