The Ivory Tower Syndrome


“His cardinal flaw is that he isolates himself and does not allow anyone to see him; and for which he does not know what is going on in the matter with which he is dealing. – Abraham Lincoln on his reason for releasing General John C. Fremont from his Missouri command. (September 1861) How many times have you received instructions from your boss or “HQ” that have you shaking your head and wondering how the executive team could have made such an uninformed decision? Decision?

Perhaps you have implemented a new cost control program that hits the core of your implementation process and puts you in a position where you may not be able to meet your delivery commitments. Or they are implementing a new sale that is not supported. through their systems and will almost certainly lead to dissatisfied customers. When I was young I worked as an accountant in the head office of a shoe retail chain. We suffered some significant losses in some branches and implemented some new
control systems.

Later I shopped in one of our stores, where the shop assistants didn’t know me. They bemoaned the last directive from The Ivory Tower and how stupid it was and how hard it made its job. “Don’t get it,” they said. “They’ve completely lost touch with what’s going on in the real world.” I was young and I was pretty sure we at HQ had a broader and more complete view of the situation than these sales people did.

I was sure they were the ones who lost contact. You just haven’t seen the big picture. Does it look familiar? I know I’ve heard a similar refrain at least 100 times in my career. The local people were convinced that the people in the “ivory tower” had lost touch.

Headquarters executives believed they had taken the right steps based on the “big picture”. Who was right? It’s difficult to say. There is no easy answer. Of course, not every decision managers make is the right one. , nor are any decisions they make wrong.

But as Lincoln implied when he replaced General Freemont, losing touch with what’s happening on the front lines isn’t a good thing. Leaders who isolate themselves too much from the day-to-day operations of their company risk losing touch with their employees, their customers, and even the company’s mission. In fact, there’s an old joke about making decisions based on top-of-the-line information that gets so skewed by the time it reaches executives that
doesn’t look like the original message. Some people would tell you that this is a communication problem.