Today I discussed with my friend, Lauren, our impressions of the TV series, Madame Secretary. One of Lauren’s observations hit home with me. She noticed that Tea Leoni’s character has flaws. Some days, she is knocked down by challenges, and needs help. Don’t we all need help when we feel a lack of confidence to meet our needs and reach our goals? How can we take advantage of help without diminishing our leadership presence?
In the most recent episode of Madame Secretary, McCord invites the assistance of a consultant, Mike B, after she’s humiliated at a public budget meeting. Apparently a dear friend of hers, Mike walks into her office with his dog in tow and behaves as if he owns the place. There’s no hint of humility in him while he plops on her office couch along with his dog. McCord brings Mike B into her confidence on staffing issues; he advises her to fire and replace her entire staff.
While McCord doesn’t take his advice, she permits him to remain in the room while she informs her staff that they are on notice. Mike chimes in with snarky quips, subtly upstaging her and giving the impression that his opinions have a great deal of power in her decisions. Neither Lauren nor I liked this one bit! We didn’t like Mike B’s behavior and attitude and found his behavior disrespectful of the Secretary. McCord’s staff didn’t like him either. As a woman, permitting Mike to upstage her leadership is not good.
In one of my past blogs, I described what I mean by leadership presence. What impact does permitting Mike B to behave poorly have on McCord’s leadership presence? McCord has no trouble earlier in the episode letting a male staff member know he’s out of line and putting him on notice for his behavior. Is it inconsistent to allow a peer to behave in a way that can be construed as inappropriate and disrespectful? We thought so.
On the positive side, McCord’s decision to seek assistance from someone she trusts as knowledgeable is a sign of respectful and constructive influence. Seeking help is part of exhibiting grace—relationship intelligence in the service of elevating performance. She values people, their contribution, and working in the spirit of partnership with openness and flexibility. She also demonstrated grit in putting her staff on notice. Grit means leading with an uncompromising commitment to performance excellence and strategic focus.
However, she lacked grit in not drawing a line with Mike B on his behavior. Acting on this would mean facing and neutralizing negativity. In the first place, I would have asked him to step outside while I put my staff on notice. If I permitted him to stay in the room, I would have asked him to remain respectfully quiet while I executed my strategy with the staff. His behavior upstaged her leadership presence, and she permitted it. I would have called him on his bad behavior with equanimity and constructive intent. I would have done this with mental calmness and composure, and pointed out to Mike his impact on the perspectives, feelings and needs of others—especially my needs. This kind of balance between grit and grace is critical to a strong leadership presence. Don’t allow yourself to be upstaged!