Elections and Leadership Lessons – 6. “Yes” people are a no-no

The party that got drubbed in this election, yes, CONgress had nothing going for them, what with scams, lack of leadership, a twit as a potential PM candidate, and ofcourse an outstanding campaign by the BJP. But this spectacular defeat was not only because of the above reasons, but an underlying problem of many years that just ate away “merit” in the CONgress party.

Starting with Pandit Nehru, none of the CONgress leaders liked to be challenged. Atleast during Panditji time, he had many detractors who were his peers in the freedom struggle and were truly tall leaders, so the party survived him. Then came his daughter and the whole fabric of debates and different points of view ceased altogether. She had a coterie that she relied on and just dismissed the naysayers…. Ofcourse Sanjay and Rajiv followed the same methods as they didn’t know better. Soon sycophancy was a badge of honour in the CONgress party and rewards were certain for one who licked the supremo’s boots. Merit cannot flourish in the quicksand of sycophancy and while the result was late in coming, it still did in the form of the worst showing ever in the 2014 elections.

Just remove the political party’s name and replace with our names or managers/leaders names in our firms. People who lead teams cannot fall in love with “yes” men/women. But it’s so compelling and easy to like people who always agree with you and so difficult and painful to debate and accept a different point of view or course of action from a team member :):). When you find engagement low, look at the manager’s style – he/she may be a wonderful person who loves his/her team, but doesn’t let them differ from the course laid down by them ! I have come across many managers who are awesome and much respected, but just want their idea to be implemented, no questions asked. He/she will ask questions for the sake of asking because it’s appropriate to do so, but ensure you “do” exactly what they want. No one is a fool, so such managers end up with poor engagement and do not develop a strong second line. Exactly what happened with the CONgress party – those who stuck around, were happy to be “yes” people so that they enjoyed the fruits of sycophancy. Others who couldn’t deal with it, left.

So it happens in organizations… Surround yourself with “yes” people and be assured the rot will set in and the team/organization will not have meritorious strong leaders. A strong leader doesn’t like to toe the line or be a “gofer” and a great leader would not like “yes” people – so go figure !!

This problem is more prevalent in organizations than we like to believe – the “yes” people work with the thought “why disagree and create trouble, just accept whatever is being said and reap the benefits” …. While the smart, strong leader is just feeling stifled :). There are disguised sycophants.. Who appear to disagree, differ and debate in public, but have a great “yes” agreement in the background with the leader. This variety is hard to spot and dangerous, but well, no one said organization building is easy.

Watch out and don’t end up surrounding yourself with “yes” people. Hire a team smarter than you, get people who challenge your thinking and you will build a strong second line and ensure the organization always has strong leaders. It’s easy to work with “yes” people… But they just finish off the organization. So take your pick.

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