Executives are set up to fail when they are given one leadership mandate while others in the organization operate under a different, conflicting set of directives.
Leadership mandates tend to fall into one of three major categories: continuity (we should continue business as usual), good to great (we’ve been doing fine, but we need to do even better) and turnaround (we need to make dramatic changes to survive). Myriad problems can arise when an executive is given one leadership mandate while others are operating under a different, conflicting set of directives. Such stealth mandates are no-win situations, leading to the executive constantly butting heads with his or her boss, colleagues and others in the organization.
To identify the true leadership mandate for a position, executives need to ask three crucial questions about the business unit they lead: (1) What needs to be changed within the next 12 months? (2) What needs to be honored or maintained during the next 12 months? (3) What must be avoided at all costs? Different constituencies should be queried, including key customers, and each of the questions should elicit a discussion about technology, business processes, culture and people.
When executives discover that a stealth mandate is in play, they need to renegotiate mandates. One important goal is to establish realistic frameworks that will then become the basis for their future performance evaluation. Of course this is much easier said than done. But when an executive continues to operate in the shadow of a stealth mandate, he or she is setting himself or herself up to fail.