Definition of Ivory Tower
- Merriam-Webster Dictionary: secluded place that affords the means of treating practical issues with an impractical often escapist attitude
- The Urban Dictionary: A disparaging term that refers to elitist detachment from, and especially criticism of the everyday world, or of common sense and beliefs
How many of us have seen leaders climb the ladder into the “Tower?” Where they now put themselves into isolation or amongst a close circle of other leaders or managers and become disconnected from their subordinates or employees. Becoming disconnected from the organization and team is bad enough, but what can also follow is a culture or practice of much more than escapism or detachment, but one of not listening to the great ideas of your people. And even worse than this, believing that you are the smartest person in the whole organization and you create a culture of fear where if someone speaks up with an idea they risk either indifference, ridicule, or even worse yet retribution of some kind. Does this still go on today in organizations? Amazingly, yes it does and leaders can find themselves falling into this insidious trap. If it deteriorates into the retribution stage, we are now in what I call the “take no prisoners” leadership style.
How does a leader defeat the lure of the Ivory Tower? Stay engaged with your people. Be with them often, LISTEN, ask great questions that then lead to great answers….. And listen some more. Create a culture of openness, teamwork, inclusiveness, creative thought, intellectual rigor and one where even the most junior member of the team feels that he or she can and do contribute – every day. Can climbing into the Ivory Tower happen to even the best leaders? Yes it can, for I have seen leaders I have highly respected lose sight of what’s important with their people and begin the long climb up into the Tower. Some have climbed so high that I was not sure they could be rescued from up there. Their reputations then suffered but ultimately so did their organizations or their businesses. Be careful, because it can happen to anyone, even the very best of leaders.
Stay engaged, listen and encourage your people to speak up. Create a culture of questioning and idea generation. Don’t even put one foot on the ladder that leads to the Tower.