166 Monday Musings-A case of two successions
Last week two successors were anointed and while they are from the political world, they tell curious stories relevant even for organisations of other hues. Rahul Gandhi formally announced the change of guard at the Congress, while Rajnath Singh once again took over as the president of a very fractured BJP, where merit and vision were surely not the factors at play. Lets look at these examples and what it holds for organisations in general on this tricky issue of succession.
The elevation of Rahul Gandhi represents a blatant display of the theory of entitlement. All principles of internal democracy, meritocracy and talent development were sacrificed at the altar of competitive sycophancy. In modern organisations the theory of entitlement plays out in many ways. It can take the shape of nepotism, groupism, coteries, cliques and old boys club or a deadly combination of more than one of the above. It does not matter what is the origin of the sense of entitlement propagated in organisations, what matters is what it does to its fabric over a period of time. Congress's example would be an interesting study. When talent realizes the presence of an unsaid glass ceiling, they leave for greener pastures and you are left with only the mediocre and yes men. Every layer sustains its own pyramid of yes men and soon many fiefdoms vie for power and its spoil. There are only hunters left and no one is farming and people with access to the corridors of power or the ear of the top leader becomes power-centers. Soon a complex game of one upmanship is played out at all theaters There are only turfs to be protected and the organisational interest takes a back seat. Finally the system stops attracting talent at the grass roots and leaders are left with either no one to lead or only 'cattle to be herded'. Systemic checks and balances fail and each time the systems and policies are ignored, bypassed, bent or compromised, some justification, explanation or exception gets built in. It takes years for this negative reputation to get built for successful and large systems as this degeneration is gradual.
On the other side of the divide, the BJP witnessed the return of the old guard in Rajnath Singh as its president as a second term. This represents the second way in which succession pans out in organisations. Its called the path of least resistance. There are just too many second rung leaders and the delta among them is not large enough to make any one of them stand out over others or make the elevation of any of them acceptable to the others. So the decision makers take the path of least resistance and make the least controversial, often vintaged the new leader. This creates two systemic fault lines in the organisation. While the imminent showdown is averted by walking the path of least resistance, it breeds mediocrity. Its better to lose a few talented people than to be led by leaders with no sense of vision or bring no freshness of perspective. The second and to my mind a more dangerous portend is the fact that the mind and the mindset that has created the current malaise are the ones tasked to take the system out of it. Experience has borne in example after example that it has as much probability of being successful as is the probability of finding life on Mars! If a large system wants a tectonic shift in its current reality then it stands a better chance of success if a fresh mind guides its destiny; need not be the most talented, but certainly a fresh mind. Succession is the best time for large systems to bring this freshness they should not waste it if there is any urgency for ushering change.