Potemkin Villages (ANECDOTE)


Potemkin VillagePrince Grigory Aleksandrovich Potemkin-Tavricheski (Potemkin |pəˈtemkin| for short) was a Russian military leader and personal favorite (and possibly secret husband) of Catherine the Great, Empress of Russia from 1762-1796.  He was intelligent and daring, and as a young man, he won many victories fighting the Turkish forces of the Ottoman Empire.

 

After defeating the Ottoman Empire in Crimea and what is now known as Southern Ukraine, Potemkin became the governor of the region.  The area had been devastated by the war, and Potemkin struggled to rebuild it and bring in Russian settlers.  Before he could make sufficient progress, the Ottoman Empire threatened war again.  Empress Catherine wanted to impress her allies and gain their support during the upcoming war, so she engaged upon a six-month trip to the area with her court and ambassadors from many other countries.

 

Potemkin was embarrassed to show the true condition of what was now known as “New Russia,” so he had his men build “mobile villages” and set them up along the banks of the Dnieper River as Catherine traveled it by barge.  As soon as the empress arrived with all her powerful friends, Potemkin’s men would emerge in the sham village dressed as peasants.  When the barge left, they would disassemble the village and quickly move it downstream overnight.  They would then rebuild the village in preparation for her visit the next day and repeat the process as before.  This risky ruse paid off, but Potemkin’s men were exhausted.  Worse, they had now seen the true character of their leader and knew what lengths he would go to in order to keep up appearances.

 

Have you ever built a Potemkin Village to impress your boss or senior leaders?  Ever made things look better than they really were to hide your lack of progress or impact?  Ever put on a show to save face or avoid the consequences of having leaders see the true situation?

 

There are several problems with erecting Potemkin Villages:

  • We will waste time, money and skill creating the illusion of success when we should be working on our problems.
  • Leaders above us will have a distorted picture of what is really happening in the organization.
  • Because the leaders won’t know the problems we are having, they won’t be able to help us solve them.
  • Leaders will make decisions about the organization based on what they think is true, and these new initiatives and commitments will often strain our resources and staff even further.
  • Because we have pretended that things are going well, we won’t be able to ask for the resources we really need to fix the problems.
  • Our staff will become exhausted and disengaged as they regularly build “fake villages” that they know do nothing to help improve their situation.
  • We will lose the trust of our staff as they see us misrepresent reality to the leadership of the organization.

The longer we pretend that the problem doesn’t exist, the longer we participate in keeping it alive.  If we truly want things to get better, we have to get honest.  We have to have the courage to accept the consequences for the way things are so that we can get the help we need to make them better.

 

Let’s spend less time building fake villages and more time building the Kingdom.

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Filed under culture, Honesty, Transparency, Trust, Vulnerability

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