Leaders: Beware the Dances With Wolves Syndrome

In the movie, “Dances With Wolves” the main character is assigned to a remote army outpost, so remote that he is the only army person assigned there. After a long period of isolation he became friends with the indians. As time passed with no communication from his command, he moved from just being friends with the Indians to becoming part of the tribe.

The story in this movie illustrates the “Dances With Wolves Syndrome” (DWWS) that can infect an organization when leaders fail to maintain effective communication with their team. Leaders must communicate frequently the mission and strategic direction of the organization. Without communication and involvement team members will become more like the tribe they have frequent contact with. Team members who work remote from the main office are at high risk of being infected by DWWS and becoming a member of the tribe.

Leaders  must communicate their strategic direction frequently so people at all levels of the organization understand the mission and feel they are part of the team. In the absence of communication by the leader, team members will begin to take on the behavior and beliefs of the tribe.

Has Your Team Adopted the Beliefs of the Tribe?

What you hear from team members can be an indication of DWWS. When the language of a team member sympathizes more with those outside your organization then you may have a case of DWWS. When you observe an over emphasis by your sales team on price versus value, you are most likely dealing with DWWS. This occurs when a salesperson buys into the myth that your product is no different from the competition and the buying decision is made only on price.

Is Your Team Dressing Like the Tribe?

In the movie the main character abandoned his army uniform and began to dress like the Indians. By changing the way he dressed he identified more with tribe than organization he worked for. If team members begin to believe that the strategic direction and mission of another organization is better than yours they are infected with DWWS. If people in your organization are not fully bought into the mission and goals of your organization then they will migrate to another tribe that provides clear vision of the goals. Leaders can not expect that sending an e-mail or making a speech at a meeting will effectively communicate the mission and strategic direction of the organization. To keep people on your team requires frequent communication even if it means being repetitive.

Has Your Team Lost Authority by Handing Over Accountability?

If team members blame others in your organization instead of taking action and accountability, they are infected with DWWS.  Team members who work in remote outposts and do not have authority to solve problems will hand off the accountability. Give your team members the authority to solve problems so the tribe will view them as someone of value. The best antidote for DWWS is vaccinating them with authority to solve problems for the tribe.

If you like this blog read more from Steven D Wood in his new book. 

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