Oct 23, 2013Sharon Spano Blog

Leaders and Scarcity in Organizations

When scarcity thinking is prevalent in an organizational leader, it’s a lot more serious than my earlier example of having too much bread in the pantry.  Such thinking trickles down through the organization and creates a fear-based culture that is often harmful and destructive. There are really two types of leaders who create scarcity in an organization.  The first type of leader is fairly obvious. At the risk of over simplification, this is the leader who demonstrates ego-centric behavior.  She may have little empathy for her subordinates, zero tolerance for mistakes, and a tendency to over react to every situation.  This type of leadership produces scarcity because it is often punitive and threatening. People fear their leader; they fear losing their jobs. Remember, fear is an outcome of scarcity. Oddly enough, however, this type of leadership, painful as it is, may actually produce a more united workforce.  People in these scenarios may have a greater tendency to bind together much like a band of brothers support one another against an abusive parent. The White Knight However, there is another type of leader who can just as easily produce scarcity in an organization. Even the best of leaders, in all their goodness, can generate a climate of scarcity. In what I like to refer to as the “white knight syndrome,” people love and respect this leader.  He is often the  patriarch of the organization.  He has a strong clear vision that people admire.  He is fiscally responsible, great at marketing and increasing the bottom line, and dedicated to his clients and the people who serve the organization.  In this type of scenario, loyalty is the source of scarcity. How Loyalty Produces Scarcity When people respect and admire their leader, they do not want to disappoint. While loyalty does not produce the same level of fear as outlined above, it produces fear just the same. People who work in a patriarchal organization, may not be looking over their shoulder waiting for the next land mine to explode.  However, in a patriarchal environment, people may hoard information and resources.  They may fight for approval and acknowledgment or work extra hard in an effort to prove themselves indispensable.  Such loyalty may even cause people to undermine their fellow co-workers in order to gain recognition. People do whatever is necessary to look good for mom or dad, no matter the cost to others. Scarcity breeds a form of sibling rivalry, if you will, and this rivalry stems from a belief that our fearless leader cannot abundantly value us all. These personal moments of scarcity explode into destructive and harmful scenarios at the departmental level.  Departments become siloed from one another. Unhealthy competition and passive-aggressive behavior is the norm. Key players are unable to engage in collaborative efforts.  Innovation suffers, and products and services become stagnant. Scarcity impacts every aspect of an organization.  The underlying premise is that the only way I win or look good is if you lose. Wise leaders pay attention to these symptoms and outcomes.  They understand that they must look inward to determine how their leadership may be instrumental in producing such results.  Wisdom comes in understanding that the buck does in fact start and stop at the very highest rung of the ladder.  The culture is a reflection of who I am as a leader. I hope you’ll subscribe to the RSS Feed to engage in future conversations by clicking here.    Question:  Have you ever worked for a White Knight that created scarcity in the organization? You may leave a comment here.