Defining The….Shadow Government

Shadow 1Amongst the world’s great conspiracy theories, the argument that the lives of ordinary citizens is quietly stage-managed by an invisible Illuminati of sorts is one that is seemingly unique to America. From the CIA-MI6 combo, the Bilderberg Group, and Eisenhower’s deal with aliens, to the Mason’s, Skull and Bones, Trilateral Commission, and the Council on Foreign Relations, Americans love a good conspiracy theory. Chief among them is the “shadow government”, an invisible bureaucracy of unelected and unaccountable people secretly exercising power behind the scenes, independently of the more publicly elected or chosen leaders.

“Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you”
― Joseph Heller, Catch-22 

shadow 3Shadow governments can exist on a much smaller scale than aliens and presidents, however. If you are a member of an organization, the idea that there are powerbrokers amongst the team who aren’t always found in the boardroom or any other place where key decisions are made, is not a revelation. In sports terms, we call that “punching above your weight class”. It is not uncommon for The Boss to place trust in people who may be independent of the leadership team and who might might necessarily be considered loyal to The Boss, above all, even in opposition to the needs and wellbeing of the team itself. If you are The Boss, consider for a moment if there is someone in your organization who controls who sees you, or speaks with you, or who might be the last person you consult before making a decision. Or, whose advice or information you never question, but who doesn’t show up in the boardroom for cross-examination. If there is that someone, continue reading so you can get educated on how the rest of the team digs that.

“The very word ‘secrecy’ is repugnant in a free and open society; and we are as a people inherently and historically opposed to secret societies, to secret oaths and to secret proceedings…” – President John F. Kennedy, April, 1961.

For those not The Boss, dealing with the gatekeepers that limit or channel the flow of information but have no ultimate accountability or responsibility to the health or function of an organization can be maddening at times. However, it could be argued that there are legit roles and functions  for this person, and sometimes, The Boss’s Right Hand (for example) is doing exactly what they are being directed to do, namely, keep stuff from disturbing the boss. It may be frustrating, and bad for the Boss’s situational awareness, but this isn’t a major revelation about the workplace.

“Sunshine is the greatest disinfectant” – Justice Louis D. Brandeis

shadow 5Of more concern is a Shadow Government of decision-vetting that is present to some degree in every team.  The mechanism isn’t always engaged, but when the Shadow Governors determines a decision doesn’t meet with their approval, game on.  Thus, they can often masquerade as upbeat, positive, competent, happy people whenever it suits them. In short, they look great on paper.  However, cross a Shadow Governor and hold on to your seat, as the ride will get bumpy.  Often, the presence of Shadow Governors is well known to the team at large and they take great pains to ensure that they do not get sideways to them, which can be career-killing in the long run. But, to clearly state, this must be fought. Allowing the Shadow Government to drive your organizational model is surrendering the fight well before it’s time.

“Let the people know the facts, and the country will be safe.” – Abraham Lincoln

shadow 2Culture, especially in teams, is a critical component of success. It should be included as an ingredient of the strategy itself, rather than a stand-alone concept that must be defeated or neutralized in order to “win”. Beating the Shadow Government theory is about having an organization in which the number of secrets is small and well-defined for all. It means decisions are shared when possible, publicly acknowledged when not, and connected to outcomes for which everyone is aware and driving. It means understanding that having a “culture” that suits everyone, is warm and fuzzy, or that the team finds enjoyable, is not the sole purpose of the team, but instead is a byproduct.  John Q. Citizen at home doesn’t care a whit whether this is a great place to work, where everyone is valued, morale is great, and all can explore their every creative desire while getting paid.  Instead, Mr. Citizen wants to know whether we are doing the job to the highest standard and that they can count on us to provide our services as requested and paid for.

“It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so” – Mark Twain

There is nothing that says we can’t meet Mr. Citizen’s expectations, and truly enjoy our experiences as a team while doing it. To do so means we have to face our workplace cultural expectations and make them an element of our success rather than an opponent. Meeting the Shadow Governors head on is one way to do it, but managing an organization without shadows at all seems the best way to ensure that everything is on the table, not below it.