A true story….
John and Barry were Vice Presidents reporting to the division president. They were both very talented and opinionated. When they were together in meetings, their demeanor toward one another was either cool and aloof, or confrontational. The real problem, however, came when they were not together. Both John and Barry took cheap shots at each other´s expense in front of others. They also did not involve each other in decisions as often as they should have, preferring to avoid one another when possible. Barry was particularly critical and cynical of John and many of his group members. Neither were inexperienced middle managers; they should have known better than to relate in this dysfunctional way. These leaders, with decades of experience let their opinions and emotions get the best of them.
The managers who reported to John and Barry were beginning to emulate the dysfunction between the groups. It took having a manager who worked for John and closely with Barry to call their attention to what was going on. To their credit, once they saw the impact their poor relationship had on their results and their teams, they were able to become effective partners. In just a couple months, the improvement was significant and both were realizing benefits in terms of productivity and work satisfaction.
(The above scenario is from my book, High Impact Middle Management)
I was that manager. Barry was my biggest internal customer (I was the training and OD manager) and John was my boss. Seeing the dramatic improvement in their relationship and experiencing the positive difference this change made was interesting. Relationships can be fixed and saved and the benefits begin immediately.
Both Barry and John were talented, dedicated and caring professionals. But their styles clashed and they felt each could approach their jobs differently. What they did not realize until after their relationship improved was this:
When there is no mutual trust or partnership, there can be little influence.
When they created a relationship built on trust and respect, they could influence each other and help each other grow as leaders.
I still think about John and Barry when I see or work with leaders who lack mutual trust and partnership. It´s organizational poison and critical to resolve. It can be resolved. The individuals need to redefine what success looks like to include being a productive partner and role model of how to work together.