Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou is choosing to get out of the way and resign in order to save the bailout deal for his country.  Sometimes leaders need to lead.  Sometimes they need to follow.  And sometimes they need to get out of the way of the pursuit of purpose.

Whenever a leader is facing a period of change, there are going to be supporters, detractors and watchers:

  • Supporters: These are the people that share the leader’s vision and see that there’s more to gain by going forward with the new leader than by holding on to the past.
  • Detractors: These are the people who are comfortable with the status quo and have more to lose in giving up the current state than they have to gain in supporting a risky change.
  • Watchers: These are the people that are on the fence, generally the silent majority.

It is difficult to turn detractors into supporters (especially covert detractors). Instead, leaders should work to turn supporters into champions, watchers into supporters, and neutralize detractors, turning them into watchers or making them go away.

Ideal Result

The ideal result for Papandreou would have been to align the government leaders around the shared purpose of improving the well-being of the people of Greece. He could not do this, so he tried to move enough of his supporters, watchers, and detractors one step each to alter the balance of power in his favor.

Papandreou tried, but was unable to shift enough people to save the deal. If you can’t do that as a leader, it’s time to get out of the way, like Papandreou did to pave the way for what Lucas Papedemos must do as interim prime minister.

The Win

One of the issues with the Greek bailout was that some of the people did not want to give Papandreou the win, fearing that it would strengthen his hold on the government. He tried all sorts of approaches, from encouragement to bargaining to threats to calling a public referendum. None worked.

So, in the end, Papandreou agreed to give up his position, taking off the table any risk of a win strengthening his hold.

Commit to Purpose

The strongest leaders know that it’s not about them. It’s about the team, their followers, and, most importantly, the purpose of the organization (improving the wellbeing of the people of Greece in this case). Papandreou’s action is the action of a leader more committed to purpose than to his own “hold” on power.

The lesson is most definitely not that any leader facing opposition should resign. The lesson is that leaders must be committed to purpose over everything else. Had Papandreou managed to get the other governmental leaders rallied around their shared purpose and put their disagreements aside in pursuit of that, he would not have had to resign. He failed in that. And that failure is a failure of leadership.

The risk is that those that dug in and forced Papandreou’s resignation will be emboldened by their success and be even less flexible in the future. Papandreou certainly knows that. The choice he is making is to accept that risk – but do the deal required for the bailout.

This is a good example of step 9 of The New Leader’s PlaybookSecure ADEPT People in the Right Roles and Deal with Inevitable Resistance

Make your organization ever more ADEPT by Acquiring, Developing, Encouraging, Planning, and Transitioning talent:

  • Acquire: Recruit, attract, and onboard the right people
  • Develop: Assess and build skills and knowledge
  • Encourage: Direct, support, recognize, and reward
  • Plan: Monitor, assess, plan career moves over time
  • Transition: Migrate to different roles as appropriate

Just as not all people are right for all roles, not all leaders are right for all situations. We’re all new leaders all the time. As you take a look at your next 100 days, make sure you know when to lead, when to follow, and when to get out of the way.

George Papandreou via Wikipedia