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Leading in a dysfunctional system

Executives trying to one-up each other, team members who are explosive and disrespectful—and you in the middle of it all. How can a manager get work done when dealing with the poisonous politics that often wrack an organization? This post by Dr. Todd Hall examines what can happen when a leader needs to get control over a dysfunctional system, the challenges faced, and the possible successes which are open. The strategy that Dr. Hall begins with is to “understand your own connection strategies”: There are three common strategies most of us use to manage our sense of connection with others. These strategies stem from how we connected with important authority figures in our lives. These experiences become “connection filters” that influence our gut level perceptions of relational experiences, particularly with authority figures such as leaders, and groups. The challenging thing is that this filtering process happens outside our conscious awareness in real time. There is a substantial body of research suggesting that our connection filters operate with groups and leaders with whom we work. Understanding your typical connection strategies can help you navigate a dysfunctional system. The three are:

  • A secure strategy
  • An anxious strategy
  • A distant strategy

A secure strategy focuses on a balance of perspective, flexibility, and autonomy. An anxious strategy occurs when there is a belief that leaders and groups won’t be consistently available, creating a troubling and often self-fulfilling failure. The final strategy is the “distant strategy”: a lack of awareness of your own emotions as well as others, and a belief that you are the only reliable person on your organisation.
Recognizing which of these three strategies you generally reach for when things begin to go wrong is important – it’s through this self-awareness that you can begin to determine what your own part is in the dysfunctional system and how to best overcome that role in order to help your team move past dysfunction and into success.

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