Leadership for when you are stuck

I seem to spend a lot of time talking with people who have got stuck. Strangely, they are not stuck because they don’t know what to do or how to do it. They are stuck because they are operating inside a system that seems dedicated to stickiness rather than effectiveness!

Something strange happens when people get together in organisations to achieve things- the achieving bit gets harder. It starts off fine, a few of you can achieve so much more than you could on your own. You know each other, have the same purpose and values. Are all on the same page. Then a few more people join you and you can’t all hang out together. Communication becomes difficult. You have a lurking suspicion that some people are around just for the job, not for the purpose. Systems develop, processes are formed and what used to be decided over coffee now takes three committee meetings, four months and countless ‘chats’ with key players.

And we get stuck.

We get stuck because:

  • People get very protective of their territory, job, process. Collaboration becomes hard
  • Organisational processes tend to extreme caution. The new, innovative and disruptive ideas are just that- disruptive.
  • We all get addicted to agreement rather than action.

A few years ago I came across a book by G. Pichot called Intrapreneuring in Action. It was a breath of fresh air because it described how I tried to work- and because it was an MBA text book I decided that it also legitimised how I tried to work! It contains ten principles for intrapreneurs. I have taught on these in Tearfund on several occasions and the sessions always generate responses ranging from fear and panic, to relief and energy, to the understanding of why a particular colleague is like they are.

Here they are:

1. Come to work each day willing to be fired

2. Circumvent any orders aimed at stopping your dream

3. Do any job needed to make your project work, regardless of your job description

4. Find people to help you

5. Follow your intuition about the people you choose, and work only with the best

6. Work underground as long as you can- publicity triggers the corporate immune system

7. Never bet on a race unless you are running in it

8. Remember that it is easier to ask for forgiveness than permission

9. Be true to your goals, but be realistic about the ways to achieve them

10. Honour your sponsors

What do you think of these- helpful or a recipe for corporate anarchy!

Later this week I will write on the Five Commitments that Intrapreneurs need to make in order to have integrity


on “Leadership for when you are stuck
5 Comments on “Leadership for when you are stuck
  1. Thank David, interesting. I would agree that any process which makes collaboration harder should be avoided at all cost! However, it sounds like some of these top 10 tips would make collaboration harder too? Surely keeping good work underground prevents good people from the rest of the organisation from feeding in and perhaps even improving ideas? And doesn’t circumventing orders damage levels of trust in an organisation and make people who feel slighted or disrespected by this cling to process more? I must confess to having been this person from time to time – when I have felt passed over or ignored by an intrapreneur who seems to be living in a bit of a bubble and seems dismissive or unaware of other good stuff going on.

    I can totally see that pointless process that drains the life and energy out of something should be scrapped but, if we want relationships to be at the centre of everything we do – as we do at Tearfund – shouldn’t we acknowledge that sometimes its better to go slower but to do it together? Or perhaps this is something I can look forward to in the next blog?!

    • Great points. And at a personal level I deeply regret the times when I have made things worse for other people. I also agree that this is only one side of the story. The next post in this series looks at some of the commitments that intrapreneurs need to make in order to work with integrity. The third post looks at how we can manage the challenge of intrapreneurs and use it to create a more responsive and positive culture. I don’t think I will have all the answers but it would be great to keep chatting. I do know that we need to help people get unstuck from processes without trampling over other people.

  2. Pingback: Living with intrapreneurs «

  3. David, this series is a breath of fresh air. I appreciate you giving the topic your time and effort. Receptivity and multilateral responsibility in a team adhering to set values – is so vitally important to manage and chart our progress, together, when the future is so often uncertain – and so few people have the courage or know-how to innovate, or navigate the way forward alone. Phill