October is the season for ghosts and goblins. While the manifestations inhabited by children in costume is cute and quite fun, there is nothing enjoyable about struggling with a leadership “ghost.”
Chances are you know what I mean, even if you have never heard my term before. In the Goodwin leadership lexicon, a “leadership ghost” is a predecessor who once held the position you now do who refuses to move on. Like a ‘ghost’ who cannot leave this world, leadership ghosts cannot let go of their old organization and their former role in it. And so they “haunt” you and the organization. They meddle, interfere, and exert power all to make sure that their former colleagues and stakeholder continue to revere them. Their ego is so big they believe that the organization will fail without their continual presence. They insist on using what remains of their influence to introduce doubt into the system about your leadership. Certainly you cannot be as good as they once were, is the persistent belief of the haunter. The ghost seeks to make sure that they are not replaced in the hearts of their past colleagues. They cannot let go and let you lead.
If you have ever had to try to “exorcise” such a ghost, you know what I am talking about. Ghosts hide in the shadows. They do their work through whispers, gossip, and innuendo. And when you call them out on their inappropriate meddling, you become the bad person. “How dare you say a bad word about ____ ,” is the sentiment in the system. This makes trying to stop their haunting fraught with danger – for you!
The first action you need to take is a clear acknowledgment that this is indeed what is happening. Trust me when I tell you that it will be a mistake to presume that the ghost just has your best interests, and the interests of the organization at heart. Certainly there are those who leave well and who have no desire to continue to influence your organization or second guess you in any way. In those situations there is no harm in seeking their advice or even asking for their assistance from time to time. But if you do this with a true leadership ghost, that slightly to very toxic individual who still needs love and affirmation from your organization, and you will just have poured gas on the campfire. Trust me, I have lived to tell the tales of following two of the most pernicious leadership ghosts you can imagine. Naming my challenge was the first step in saving my job and protecting the organization I was called to lead.
So, are you being haunted? Is your predecessor meddling to serve their own, inappropriate needs? If so, be honest about it. And catch the rest of this October’s blog posts here. I will walk you through the delicate process of exorcising your ghost.