Leadership 101: Rise above pettiness

Self-serving pettiness arises when the greater vision is not being served

The response of the Blue Bulls management to the pending appointment of their executive of rugby, Heyneke Meyer, as the new Springbok coach is an example of poor and petty leadership. They let him go, and then they childishly announced it the day before the Springboks had planned a massive public event to do the same – despite the Springbok management having asked them not to.

However they spin it – and they’re saying that they had invested resources in Meyer’s four-year commitment to them – their response is petty. When you have a commitment from someone, and that person asks to be released from their commitment, they are not out of integrity as long as they remain willing to fulfil on the commitment if you don’t release them. In other words, if the the Bulls had said no, Meyer would have stayed. If you do release them, no matter how much pressure you might be under from the general public or the pressing and obvious dictates of that person’s future, then you are responsible for releasing them. It’s your choice, and it’s petty to then try to get back at the people asking you to make that choice, in some other way. Nobody put a gun to their heads; they could have released him with dignity and kept their own honour intact.

The ability for an organization to rise above pettiness depends the maturity of the people in the organization and their ability to rise above themselves.

A self-serving, small-minded attitude is what leads to this kind of pettiness. It happens when the greater vision is not being served. When a greater vision is being served, you will find people being willing to put aside their petty differences and power struggles to show solidarity with the current leadership at important times. You can argue your point in the boardroom, but if you lose, then you don’t go out and undermine the decision that was made, you go out in support of it. If you can’t do that, then you need to get over yourself, stop being so childish. If it’s something you absolutely can’t live with, then you leave, and you leave with honour; you don’t undermine.

The responsibility for communicating the vision lies with those at the top. In this case, with the South African Rugby Union (Saru). The conventional notion is that getting buy-in to the vision is also the responsibility of those at the top, and that this is achieved through rousing speeches and persuasion. It doesn’t work. What works is the maturity of the people in the organization and their ability to rise above themselves. Just like a divorced parent who has to rise above their own petty arguments with the ex-spouse in order to serve the needs of the child.

Motivational speakers won’t do it. An engaged and sustained program of leadership coaching is the correct way to address this issue. If South Africa is going to rise to the great future that it’s capable of, getting leaders to rise above pettiness will be one of the cornerstones.