“Aprés Moi Le Déluge” is a French expression, which means, “After me the flood”. We attribute the expression to Madame de Pompadour, the lover of King Louis XV of France. It is said that Madame de Pompadour uttered the phrase in total indifference to the plight of the people after the Battle of Rossbach in 1757. The interpretation I share to make my point in this Thursday Thought is, “After my reign, the nation will descend into chaos and destruction, but who cares, I will be gone by then.” The focus is making tough decisions as a leader, when those decisions will be unpopular with the board, your colleagues, your friends and even your family. Sometimes, making the right decision is not in your best interest, but can you live with that?
Turning a blind eye, not speaking up, conforming, ignoring the elephant in the room, not calling out that the emperor is naked?
When a gainsayer does this she takes a risk, but it always feels like the right thing to do.
“It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.” ― Upton Sinclair
Troy Campbell and Aaron Kay of Duke University presented a research paper they call, “Solution aversion: On the relation between ideology and motivated disbelief.” They suggest that people are less likely to believe that something’s a problem if they have, “an aversion to the solutions associated with the problem.” This is certainly the case with organisational change initiatives, business model transformation, and disruption.
Many changemakers become frustrated when their solutions and ideas are not implemented. To understand why, we can peel the onion of resistance. What is behind their aversion to your solution?
The status quo by its nature will resist change. Most leaders got to their position of power and remuneration by mastering the business as it is today or as it was yesterday. Likewise, for their colleagues, many of whom they likely worked alongside for years, perhaps they are even the godparent of their children. Perhaps they are golf buddies. Perhaps they are friends. Why does that matter? Through implementing a change initiative, you upend the status quo. Those in positions of power and status will no longer be in control of their domain.
As the changemaker, it is important to understand this. They are not being rejecting you. They are rejecting what you represent, and you are collateral damage if they need to remove the threat. There is significant power in knowing this, without that knowledge you can feel rejected, ostracized and lonely.
So we have established that many leaders are motivated by their personal incentives rather than what is best for the company. However, as a believer in people, I believe there are exceptional people who do the right thing in the face of adversity. Sometimes they even if it risks their careers, reputations or livelihoods.
A Profile in Courage
“The person who fights for a dying cause is admired, supported and honored. The person who fights for a new cause struggling to be born is misunderstood, reviled and attacked. Nothing is more difficult than taking the lead in a new order of things”– Dee Hock
On this week’s innovation show, Michele Wucker and I discuss the merits of the gainsayer, those people who call out important topics. Those people who do something about the problems, even if they become unpopular for doing so. We discuss how these people go to great lengths to do the right thing, often they suffer professionally as a result. Michele gives the example of George HW Bush, who raised taxes even though he knew it might cost him re-election. Many commentators say it cost him the voters’ support. We should celebrate the gainsayer, we should celebrate the people who make changes for the greater good. We should celebrate leaders who make long-term decisions at the expense of short-term profits. After all, as the saying goes:
“A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.”– Anonymous
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