The moral paralysis facing senior leaders

moral paralysis

Central to confidence and engagement is the belief that work has real meaning and positively impacts others. If leaders are unable to respect their workplace, self-reliance is the only way to survive. But that is a lonely and untenable road leading to burnt out, writes Simon Popley, Director of Coaching Leadership PTY LTD.

Organisations are facing an increasing challenge of leadership attrition and disconnection. No sector or industry is devoid of leaders questioning their values and purpose. Leaders are often beyond exhausted dealing with their core remits whilst simultaneously defending other, and often indefensible situations. Many feel demoralised from empty excuses denying accountability and responsibility.

The impact of COVID-19 has exacerbated disharmony with many questioning if they should stay or leave.

Association impact
Whenever there is wrongdoing, its common those proximate to the transgressor/s will experience the impact of the misconduct and vicarious shame. For example, family members of someone charged with a felony are often tarred by association.

Now imagine that impact resultant of organisations or an industry thrust in the spotlight for misconduct. Leaders are subsequently obliged to deflect PR issues to their teams which creates ethical discomfort and psychological compromise.

Loss of trust
Central to confidence and engagement is the belief that work has real meaning and positively impacts others. If leaders are unable to respect their workplace, self-reliance is the only way to survive. But that is a lonely and untenable road leading to burnt out.

Many competent and values based leaders are losing energy and feeling increasingly powerless to make critical changes. Pretences of ‘all is rosy, nothing to see here’ is not believed by staff and trust is further lost.

The tug of war 
Leaders often wrestle with an internal tug of war including:

  1. I work for self-interested people
  2. My industry has too much bad PR
  3. I care for my staff and cannot abandon them.
  4. I’m very well paid so put up with it
  5. I’m not a quitter and must bring change.
  6. Who will employ me? This is all I know
  7. Be positive, things might improve
  8. I have a family to support

Untangling the mess
Untangling the mess of conflicting thoughts swirling is the first step. Acknowledging your situation is real and not a delusion or conspiracy is crucial.

Confiding with a trusted friend or mentor is the next in understanding your cognitive feelings and responses. Reflecting on how issues impact your wellbeing and career reduces feelings of isolation and hopelessness. Next is to get off the floor and review the situation from the balcony. Gaining distance on the the balcony creates real perspective to draw a draw bigger picture of what are deeply complex issues.

Learning to hold multiple and competing perspectives is a capability foundational for effective leadership. The capacity to see the ‘system’ through multiple lenses is essential to navigate the complexity of moral paralysis.

Conquering rumination
Once greater perspective has provided a more informed picture leading to greater clarity, now is the time to act. And essential to this is to move away from all the tail-chasing and procrastination to make clear distinctions between actions and beliefs.

But many are stuck in a spiral of rumination. Being in this spiral encourages feelings of hopelessness to change. The cycle is pernicious in keeping leaders stuck and not evolving. Each time an action seems clear, rumination can bites again.

Albert Einstein famously quoted: “We cannot solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them”

Rumination is incessant thoughts spinning in circles without any destination or positive outcome and is correlated to cycles of depression. Minimising is crucial for effective leadership, mental health, well-being and decision making.

Active reflection
A core component decision making is active reflection. It is asking the hard questions and examining evidence of attitudes and beliefs preventing growth, including:

  1. Do I work here out of fear or a sense of obligation?
  2. Am I leading with integrity?
  3. Where is the focus – me or others?
  4. Is my leadership making a positive impact?
  5. Can I be part of the change that is needed?
  6. Is the problem insurmountable?
  7. What is my role and obligations here?
  8. Can I find a way forward that does not conflict with my values and ethics?

From a psychological standpoint reflecting brings us back to a mid-point but action is required to move forward to a place of psychological thriving and wellbeing.

It is only through action that we can truly change how we feel about a situation and change the problem itself. Goal setting and action has the effect on rumination that sunlight has on vampires; it kills it dead.

Stay or leave? 
Reflection provides clarity of what we can control and what we can influence. Raging against t issues out of our control fuels incredible existential angst and feelings of despondency.

After weighing up all that is occurring, you may decide leaving is in your best interests. Or you may decide to stay and take a different approach, or transition careers elsewhere. . Whatever your decision, make it one that you are proud of owning and acting upon.

Whatever the decision the key act is to commit and stick to it without waver. If you do not do this, you just end up boarding the express train to a deeper malaise and hole.

Perhaps an option is with a caveat of eighteen aligned with three specific changes sought. Remember every skill and experience has other applications and clarity of confidence and self-determination is key.

Final question
The final question leaders must ask is:

 ‘Where can I serve that makes a meaningful contribution?‘

If having to wrestle with moral dilemmas means you are unable to show up in a way that is authentic and congruent then the decision is clear. Where you serve as a leader is unimportant as what matters is how you lead.

Image Source: Pexels