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The Effectiveness-Lab

Brexit fallout – fiefdoms and lessons for leaders series 2 of 2

Well, the British prime minister Theresa May and those still loyal to her have survived the most dangerous seven days. It was a tumultuous week. A week where even the harbingers of the fiefdom, and usually canny political survivors, didn’t do well themselves.

Too much of anything can be bad. It’s not far-fetched to write here that the Brexiteers scored an own goal, and tilted the balance back in favour of the leader and her supporters. Fiefdoms are a zero-sum game after all

The lesson: fiefdoms of any type and magnitude, in any organization, leave the organization’s direction to the whimsical tendencies of those in power that want to satisfy their egos first. It’s more often than not that individual ego and gratification win at the expense of what is right and in the best interest of the organization

Organizational fiefdom dynamics

The majority of us would like to see fiefdoms eradicated or at least nuetralised. Well, we have to start not with eradicating fiefdoms, but understanding why and how fiefdoms get created and thrive. What enables and endears fiefdoms to an organization?

When we have the answer to the above question – we may prevent fiefdoms from forming at all. And even when they emerge, which is likely in any human abode, they won’t take root – their institutionalization is bound to fail

So what creates fiefdoms at an organization?

It’s organization culture – organizational culture is a system of shared assumptions, values, and beliefs, which governs how people behave in organizations. These shared values have a strong influence on the people in the organization and dictate how they dress, act, and perform their jobs.

Four organizational vitals – Leadership, Strategy, Design, and People strongly influence culture ‘formation’ and ‘deepening’ at the organization. The four vitals do it either independently or in sync

For example, a strategy, that addresses a specific business challenge at a point in time, may encourage a culture where powerful individuals, whose skills or influence are critical levers to steer the organization in a particular direction, dictate how things are done; leaders may surround themselves with cliques of henchmen/women that help them to implant their vision for the organization; People, in general, may be allowed space to create cliques with the same beliefs, right or flawed, that dominate and steer day to day business at the institution

Fiefdoms have specific characteristics: they serve the unique and not necessarily shared interests, of a group of people; divide the people that should be working towards a common goal; undermine teamwork; kill consensus and win/win outcomes; tend to impose and press one side, raising the political temperature amongst groups of people; create noise in the system and take attention away from the common vision and mission and ultimately value creation; and finally, leave human souls mentally exhausted and damaged + demotivated

How do we prevent the fiefdom problem? Focus on the root cause of fiefdoms at work – organization culture. Choose and institutionalize the right culture at the organization, where all individuals work in harmony and towards a common goal

Easy said than done!

The truth is, organizations are staffed and run by human beings and not computer code – and there will always be fiefdoms of some sort. When we fail to prevent fiefdoms, we explore means to eradicate or neutralize them. Eradication/ neutralization is a gradual and multi-pronged process that can apply the approaches below plus others that may be beyond the scope of this blog:

  1. Rein in the excesses of egoistic individuals before they get out of control. Reining such individuals isn’t the same as gagging them. Get the balance right – after all, leaders are ever on a political see-saw. When leaders fail to control such individuals on their teams, organizations, however mighty, get disoriented
  2. Avoid deep-seated ‘ideological’ division inside organizations. At times, it’s good to let go of dissenters for the sake of unity and good order
  3. As a leader, never be seen to support those that undermine the principle of collective responsibility. The latter undermines your authority as a leader. Indeed, it’s the ‘glue’ that holds the ‘divided’ together – i.e. ’collective responsibility.’
  4. Tense organizational climate is usually symptomatic of fiefdoms in addition to other OD. ailments. The rank and file suffer the most from the power games of fiefdom chiefs and groan the loudest. Learn to pay ‘micro-attention’ to organizational climate. In the fiefdom culture, organization climate blind spots abound

The usually canny ‘Master’ has been cajoled by the fiefdom masters into Brexit chaos, and OD. gurus have a lot to learn from the case, even as the EU & UK both agree the Brexit deal that may or may never be


One response to “Brexit fallout – fiefdoms and lessons for leaders series 2 of 2”

  1. Dear AG

    Thank you for the write -up .
    In all the fiefdom situation, the leaders are very defensive of their areas and quite often they lush out at people who have suggestion or ideas to change and improve the area of control . No matter how good or viable the idea is the answer is always no and the new concept is shot down repetitively .


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About Me

Apollo B. Gabazira is an Ugandan OD. junkie fascinated by matters that render organisations/individuals effective or not. He blogs on effective leadership and management. He is a devoted green-farmer and breeds the Ayrshire cow at Nakabugu, Luuka district, Uganda. Apollo is quite effective at what he chooses to do.


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