If a group intervention is indicated, it is advisable to use an outside facilitator unbiased by preconceptions and uninvolved with organizational politics. An outside facilitator can ask difficult questions, make difficult observations, and be trusted to respect the confidentiality of the process. Otherwise our tough job is made even tougher. We are part of the change process. It’s hard to both facilitate it and be part of it. They are different roles.
Retaining outside professional help is usually understood by the leader and accepted as a sensible approach. Occasionally a leader may object to the suggestion, saying, “What am I paying you for if we need someone else to fix this?” This is a curve ball. Organizations retain specialists all the time for special assignments: a legal department retains outside counsel, a marketing department hires advertising agencies, a personnel department uses executive search firms. Courageous followers make this case forcefully if the situation warrants outside support.
If a leader is uncomfortable with the prospect of a formal intervention, followers can help the leader overcome the discomfort:
Discuss the safeguards established in the process to protect the leader’s self-esteem, public image, and sensibilities.
Find peers who have been through similar processes and encourage the leader to listen to their experiences.
Discuss the range of possible interventions and find one with which the leader feels comfortable.
Arrange for the leader to meet with potential facilitators of these interventions to develop familiarity and trust.
The more leaders understand and buy into the process, the greater the chance they will be fully engaged as it unfolds. As change agents, it is the responsibility of both the follower and the facilitator to help participants, including the leader, understand and open up to the process.
Sadly, there is still somewhat of a cultural taboo against personal counseling, which may be part of the optimum intervention. Particularly in public life, some people see a leader’s need for therapy or counseling as calling the leader’s fitness for office into question. This attitude is a terrible disservice to our leaders and ourselves. It denies our leaders tremendous growth opportunity and it denies us the benefit of self-examined leadership. This attitude is changing, however, among some public figures, who understand the value of exploring and repairing old personal or family issues that may interfere with their optimal performance.
If a leader does seek professional counseling to address the underlying causes of intractable behavior, it should be construed as a sign of strength, not weakness, and should be fully supported and defended by courageous followers.