Organization & Leadership Consulting

The Skills of a Turnaround Artist, Part 3

Primary Skills of a Leader

Strategist, Cultural Anthropologist, and Healer.

I would argue that these are the top three skills needed by a leader faced with the task of turning around a dysfunctional team, division, or organization. Earlier posts delved into the skills of Strategist and Cultural Anthropologist, now let me turn to the skill of turnaround leader as ‘Healer.’

Rarely does it take more than a scratch below the surface of a dysfunctional culture to detect significant hurts. Real people, after all, are the building blocks of all cultures and people are both rational and emotional beings. In other words, people hurt people. Those hurts, in turn, ripple through the culture of the team to reduce productivity and profitability.

Do not misunderstand me, I am not suggesting that a turnaround leader needs to be a psychotherapist delving into the murky waters of intrapersonal psychology. What I am suggesting however is that in any dysfunctional organization there are wounds that need tending if the system is to return to health. The would-be turnaround artist must first surface these wounds and then find solutions to their underlying cause. Let me give an example to get more specific.

Maurice (name changed for confidentiality) was an entrepreneurial genius. He launched a remarkably successful manufacturing start up with little more than determination and hard work. He was also a tyrant to work with. No one in his organization dared to speak bad news to Maurice. If they ever did, they were verbally pilloried and made to feel worthless. Not surprisingly, the organization stumbled downward until it fell into Chapter 13 bankruptcy. Maurice was frantic to save his life’s work so he brought in a skilled turnaround leader as the new President of the company.

The new President was a healer. He quickly gauged the real issue and sought to heal the company from this communication disorder. Using courage, tact, and world-class diplomacy, he led Maurice to understand the root cause of his company’s descent into red ink. By both gentle and blunt means, he led Maurice to self-awareness of his own leadership flaws. The President then turned his healing abilities to the other leaders and staff to encourage, cajole, persuade, and lead the team to relearn that it was safe to speak honestly.

Psychological Safety

Healing meant creating a safe environment, free from repercussion, to discuss the truth. It took a year to make this turn towards health and two more to really anchor this in the organizational culture. Reinforcement came in the form of profitability and a healthy working environment.

The sad truth of the workplace is that there are far too many work settings that need healing. Let each of us vow that today we will do our parts to bring healing to where we work.


Leave a Reply