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Hot topic: High-level disagreements, part two


How can an organisation deal with mavericks at the top?

Boris Johnson has made headlines declaring his support for Britain leaving the EU, despite David Cameron openly supporting remaining. Having such a high-profile detractor might prove difficult for Cameron to manage. Should HR try to bring the board together or is having mavericks healthy for businesses?

Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, professor of business psychology at University College London, says:

"In any group or organisation some individuals will be more motivated to get ahead than others. This tension is managed by psychological tactics of manipulation and influence. Conversely, for our evolutionary ancestors the main currency was physical strength and violence.

Yet modern organisations face the same issues as groups did before civilised societies existed. The key challenge for leaders has always been to ensure the welfare and long-term success of their groups, and that often requires suppressing internal rebellions.

The fight between Johnson and Cameron is no different to the fight between two alpha male chimpanzees. From an evolutionary standpoint the goal of these individuals is just as primitive: to persuade the group that they are stronger than the other. In the past leadership competence was about physical strength and courage. Now it is about intelligence, vision, and integrity.

However, since the latter are harder to evaluate, individuals often develop effective decoy strategies to fake them. Johnson is a perfect example of this, for we don’t really know whether he has any substantial qualities for effective leadership. What is clear is that his colourful and comedic behaviours are a problem for Cameron; when the difference between politics and reality TV is trivial few things are more harmful than losing the limelight.

What is the lesson for HR? First, in any business there will always be struggles for power, especially at the top. Second, leaders are unable to get along. Third, while HR is an unlikely mediator in the battle for power, it should not be a spectator. HR must keep workers engaged, providing the management top leaders cannot give while they are selfishly battling for power."

Read Tata Consultancy Services' HRD Nupur Mallick's view