When is it Okay to Stop Caring?

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A corporate buyout has just occurred. One side is exceedingly happy about the opportunity to grow their organization. The other side is experiencing a stressful, confusing, and overall frightening existence, as they are unsure what will happen to their positions within the new regime?

This made me think about the strange existence of a leadership team on the executive level during a situation such as this. We all know that when a merger takes place, the highest-level executives are shown the door pretty quickly once the ink is dry on the agreement. These executives are typically paid a significant sum of money when they complete their tenure with the organization. I became curious about the way employees view their leadership during a time such as this; versus the way an executive views their remaining time with the organization. As a leader, at what point is it okay to stop caring? Is there ever a situation when you should stop caring? With all of the corporate mergers, and acquisitions, at some point, you may be downsized out of a job. This is especially true for those at the executive level. Do you still care about what is going on with your employees after you have been informed that your tenure with the organization is limited?

In the case of an organizational acquisition, the top executives usually leave with a large sum of money while the remaining employees may not fare as well. If you are a leader in this situation, how does this scenario play out for you? Are you actively engaged with those within your organization, or do you just sit back and bide your time? Do you believe that caring is not worth your time, as you cannot make a difference if you are not going to be there for the long term?

How many leaders in this position make this same mistake? An organization going through an acquisition creates a great deal of confusion and fear. Employees are just looking for leadership to provide guidance and provide some sense of normalcy. By taking an attitude of indifference, this destroys what is left of employee morale – if their leader doesn’t care, then why should they?

While many executives are waiting to pull the ripcord to their “golden parachutes” they should take a step back from the edge to consider the implications of their actions. Should leadership be conditional? Do you lead your organization until the last day you are employed, or do you stop caring when that date is written on the calendar?

On the other hand, as an executive in an acquired firm, you realize that your time is numbered and you will be monetarily rewarded for your efforts and leadership. After all, you helped make the company desirable for someone else to want to acquire it. You also realize that if your company was publicly held, your team will realize you are getting a “golden parachute”. What your team may not realize is that once the agreement is signed, you are no longer a decision maker. You will often be left out of key decisions or left in the dark when decisions are made.   This places you in a difficult position. Your team will look for you to still be a leader (after all they have been following you during their career) but you have no power to influence or change things. Your position becomes even more challenging when the acquiring firm states how you will or won’t be integral into the future organizational design.

If you stop caring, you are seen as disengaged and disenfranchised, when in reality you may feel helpless to assist your team during this transition. Should you just do nothing and become invisible? Do you leave your team hanging in the balance? The best solution is no. You should make yourself more visible at this time. Bonding with all the members of your team, making friendly conversation instead of merger related talk. You can still play an integral role in easing your team’s reaction to the transition. Plus if you are experienced in mergers and acquisitions, your insights and experience may provide hope for your team and improve their position. Let’s face it; your team may lose the most core of their needs, the ability to provide for their family. Distraction will be immense even though they will try to do their best. You can still help with coaching them through this change curve.

What this highlights is whether you are a leader or a manager. The leader will seize the opportunity to help their employees, understanding their emotional distress. The manager will say it is business as usual, and they need to do their jobs and it will hopefully work out for them in the end.

Which person are you? Remember even if you don’t have the luxury of a “golden parachute,” managers can seize this opportunity to help lead people. Times of acquisition create an opportunity where people can develop and unveil their true leader inside.

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