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Who is Your Glue?

Every organization has that one person who provides the connective tissue that makes things run. S/he is usually not the formal person in charge and may not even have a senior role. This person brings order to the chaos, sanity to the craziness, direction to the pinball-like ADD, wise counsel to those on the verge of a nervous breakdown, clarity in the midst of the political fog and razor sharp focus on what really matters. And what really matters is usually about customers or products or external competition. What really matters is not the noise that fills the corridors and eats up precious time in the midst of long working hours.

Bow down and thank your Glue Person.

And then get steaming pissed that s/he is a necessity in your organization.

In the most benign cases, I have observed good leadership that is too disconnected from the realities on the ground. That is to be expected from a CEO and other execs. They are required to get out of the weeds and hope that their lieutenants are taking care of the troops. Problems arise when the CEO doesn’t listen to these trusted emissaries. The staff looks to the Glue Person to advocate for focus, change and anything that will make work more efficient and sane. If the gap persists, a shadow organization emerges with the GP as the de facto leader. Internal power struggles ensue and things get messier. And that is the best case scenario.

Worst case is when the leader/s are friggin’ nuts and the GP has to run interference, interpret, soothe, create work arounds and do whatever is necessary to keep the right stuff happening. The strain on the staff and the GP is extraordinary. The wasted time and attention is mind numbing. And everyone wonders why the crazy person is still in charge or on the senior team.

As a consultant in these scenarios, it is an uphill battle. I’ve learned that the good leaders can make significant changes and rectify the situation. It takes time, persistence and an open mind. The shadow organization needs to be dismantled while the GP is brought under the tent and a strong alliance gets formed. Messy process but it can work out.

Crazy, ineffective or just plain terrible bosses are a different story. The board needs to be involved and informed, steps need to be taken to remove the guilty party and a well thought out plan must be implemented. Just removing the nut won’t bring a panacea of wonderfulness. In fact, there will be a whole new chapter of crazy. The power vacuum or transition creates an opportunity for others to swoop in. There needs to be a chess game of moves and strategy in place before removing a bad leader or else the quagmire can get a lot worse.

In the meantime, the GP is a great ally in making the necessary organizational and leadership changes. To be clear, I am not saying that the GP should be installed as the next leader. Frequently the GP does not see themselves as the heir apparent and is more comfortable in an informal leadership position. They have a team orientation and a strong sense of the collective good. Many feel this conflicts with being the person out in front.

So who is your Glue Person? How much do you/the rest of the organization depend on him/her to keep the place afloat and spirits in working order? Appreciate that person and be aware that s/he carries an inordinate amount of unrecognized responsibility for the place. And begin to challenge the formal leaders to step up. If too much is falling on the shoulders of the GP, there is something seriously wrong.

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