Displacement an unconscious defense mechanism whereby the mind redirects affects from an object felt to be dangerous or unacceptable to an object felt to be safe or acceptable. ~Sigmund Freud

Unfortunately, that is not the primary meaning of the word today. It has come to mean something of great fear to the workforce in that someone’s getting ready to lose their job via position elimination, poor performance or otherwise.

The perspective on displacement that I want to share in this post is how this phenomenon is initiated and how it manifests itself in terms of leadership. It comes from my observations and experience having to do with Organizational Development and Vision-Focused Leadership, which I touch on quite often in my work on Personal Leadership Effectiveness™ and the 10 Core Character Competencies.

There are three fundamental shifts that always following three related events and I’ll use the term displacement to illustrate:

  1. When you displace inconsistent structure and an enabled culture with a culture of disciplined structure and accountability, the dysfunctions start rising to the surface immediately.
  2. When you displace a culture lacking non-productive or negative activities and people, with one that has shared values, mission and vision, watch how fast the negatives start disappearing. Why? Because the culture insists, they have to. How they begin to disappear is also via displacement of one kind or another.
  3. However, also watch how fast those negatives start manifesting themselves again if the positive culture I just described starts to collapse. (This is one of the reasons I talk about the importance of Balanced Leadership.)

A powerful shared vision will displace much of what people gossip and complain about in an organization via a toxic drama that seems to exist wherever you allow it. It is important to note that some drama will not go away completely. My view on drama is if it doesn’t create constant disruption and dysfunction, then you have to allow people to ‘talk.’ In fact, the really insightful leaders, who understand the psychology of leadership, can use drama to an advantage; however, that’s a topic for another day.

I came across Freud’s definition of displacement in Wikipedia when I was preparing to write this post. I’d actually never heard the term too much until it started showing up here in Northwest Arkansas as a result of all of the organizational restructuring and ensuing displacement of employees that began about 5-7 years ago. In fact, I hear it from many displaced employees that I interact with pretty much weekly.

As a side note, everyone (especially those in positions of leadership) need to understand that no one is exempt from this happening to them. They also need to understand that displacement isn’t an annual process anymore. It’s something that organizations (especially corporations) now integrate into their planning process, where it’s planned and happens on either a monthly or quarterly basis. It’s triggered by any number of things: organizational restructuring, changes in the business model, changes in leadership at the top bringing on board a different perspective and culture, changes in productivity or performance, etc.

I also wanted to share this perspective, not just in terms of Organizational Development, but also in terms of a displaced individual’s growth and development. My primary focus in working with these folks is to bring about a positive shift in mindset as quickly as possible. In short, let’s examine what happened and why, accept it for what it is regardless, and re-engage as quickly as possible.

The tendency to ‘hang on’ to the displacement itself is overwhelming. We all (whether we realize it or not) have a point of reference, because displacement isn’t mutually exclusive to losing a job. It can happen when someone you love is displaced from your life, when your best friend is displaced, when a value you’ve had your whole life is displaced with one that only creates conflict in your life, just to name a few.

The real challenge is to overcome that displacement and start moving the needle forward instead of in place or backward. It really all comes down to your mindset.

Truth Be Told, this is why Freud’s definition really resonates with me.

Published by The Leadership Consortium

Maxie Carpenter was formerly Vice President of HR & Talent Development for Wal-Mart Stores. After a 27-year career, he began to pursue a number of other interests, which included alternative education, nonprofits, consulting, writing and public speaking.

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