The Untold Story Behind Stakeholder Relationships

When a leader advances to the CXO level, people who were previously their superiors become their peers, and gaining acceptance from these stakeholders is the first major challenge that newly promoted leaders face. If the CXO is new to the organization, then the problem gets even more pronounced. Of course, as a CXO, you are expected to influence these stakeholders and collaborate with them. There are inter-departmental decisions to make, new proposals to be approved, or new initiatives that need collaboration. Leaders often struggle with and sometimes, even avoid, persuading stakeholders. Why is it so difficult to build stakeholder relationships?

One interesting discovery that I have made is about cultural conditioning. We value age, and seniors are widely respected. Many of us would remember childhood lessons of keeping our mouth shut and not being allowed to speak up in front of elders. It's a reality that when people work in organizations, they equate their senior colleagues, who are one or two levels above them, with elders. Thus, we naturally believe that we are less than them in some way. In nutshell, we give away our power. It is quite difficult to influence someone when one has given up one’s power. The fact that a leader considers his seniors superior to him gets transmitted through his vibe as also through the body language and choice of words. It is highly unlikely to create a relationship of equals with peers who were earlier senior to the leader unless he changes his perspective. The same conditioning can also be extrapolated to authority – boss, super boss, etc.

In most cases, fear of authority is an irrational fear that we carry from our early formative years. We have been trained not to challenge authority, not to be disobedient. We carry the same rule to the workplace, no matter how inappropriate it is. Here is one irony I have observed. If you ask a leader who has a difficult relationship with his manager about his own leadership style and how he treats his juniors, he will always say, "Oh, my team is very happy. I take great care of them and include them in everything.” So, while he's empathetic to his team, he assumes that his manager will not be the same to him. He expects that if he were to speak up in front of his boss or manager with a divergent point of view, he will have to face dire consequences. This assumption is enough to ruin a stakeholder relationship. If one does not speak up transparently, openly, and courageously, the stakeholder is likely to pick up an ambivalent vibe of the leader holding back. This leads to erosion of trust.

When we do executive coaching, we conduct one-to-one assessment interviews to learn how stakeholders really perceive the leader and what they expect from him or her. It is an eye-opener, and many myths get busted. A leader may have many unfounded misgivings, while stakeholders will have a different perspective altogether. Sometimes leaders uncover their blind spots and realize that there is something they are not aware of that people are seeing in specific ways. Many a time, stakeholders have a much more positive view of the leader than the leader imagines. Then, through leadership coaching, the leader can develop action plans and work on them in a very systematic manner, gradually strengthening the stakeholder relationship.


Yoshita Swarup Sharma:

Founder & CEO - A Brighter Life | ICF Certified Executive Coach | Leadership facilitator | NLP Practitioner| Inner Transformation Specialist

Yoshita Swarup Sharma, CEO & Co-Founder of A Brighter Life, is an internationally certified executive coach (PCC). For the last eleven years, she has coached several senior leaders and CXO across the variety of industries and organizations. Recently she was awarded as one of the most influential coaching leaders of India by the World HRD Congress. She's a leadership facilitator, advanced NLP Practitioner and a specialist on personal transformation. She writes her blog from her own experiences and reflections . She brings with her 23 years of overall work experience and has previously worked as a Marketing professional in corporates like Coca-Cola, Dabur and Ranbaxy She's also a Kathak student and co-founder of Subah, A Covid Widow support group

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