Mohammed Al Hasan


Over 15 years in PR, I've gained valuable insights collaborating with global teams, broadening my perspective significantly. While learning from experienced industry professionals, I also encountered individuals lacking relevant experience or cultural awareness that we are working on, posing as "leaders", highlighting the challenges in discerning genuine expertise within the field.

The pivotal advice that ultimately resonated with me did not stem from the seasoned professionals at the helm of the public relations entities I have been associated with. Surprisingly, the advice that truly struck a chord with me was imparted by an unassuming individual, whose name I cannot recall to this day. His words were simple, yet profound. He remarked that "A Fish Rots from the Head Down."  This phrase served as a potent reminder of the crucial role leadership plays in the health and success of any organization.

In our industry, it is common for a specialist to swiftly transition into a managerial role, or for a manager to be entrusted with overseeing a department. The head of the department can often appear as a figure of authority, akin to a guiding priest, whose words are treated as mandates that must be followed without question. It is expected that their directives be adhered to diligently, even if there are doubts about their alignment with the company's or department's objectives. Compliance with their wishes and views is paramount, as it is perceived to be an indicator of reliability and expertise. The emphasis lies in executing their instructions faithfully, regardless of any discrepancies or lack of strategic fit. Aligning oneself with their vision and delivering on their expectations is deemed to be the hallmark of a trusted professional.

After several more years of life experience, I now know exactly what he meant and why he used the expression as frequently as he did. The statement “a fish rots from the head down” means that, in addition to being a major contributing factor in an organization's success, leadership is also the root cause of an organization's failure and demise. This is true whether that organization is a country, a company, or a sales force. How could it be otherwise?

Leadership is a wonderful blessing and a heavy burden. We often attribute the successes of our organizations to good leadership, rightly so, of course. There is, however, a less glamourous side of leadership - one that is equally important to understand, prior to accepting any position of leadership. 

The list of significant problems that poor leadership can cause is extensive and poses a greater threat to the organization than any emerging competitor. This highlights the critical importance of strong leadership at every level within an organization.

Let me tell you a story happened with me once when I was worked to one of international agencies, I encountered a client who exhibited a tendency to be overly critical and found it challenging to identify his specific needs. Similar to other clients, he seemed unfamiliar with the underlying principles and concepts of public relations and media. Instead of aligning with the strategies designed to enhance the company's identity or positioning, he opted to dictate directions based solely on his preferences.

During the preparation for a press conference organized by my team, this client instructed me to transport cardboard boxes between floors. Despite my commitment to the project's success, I respectfully declined this task as it did not align with my assigned responsibilities at the PR agency. Regrettably, my decision resulted in my dismissal by the position of the head of the department that handled work at that time. He asked me to commit to the base that says: Whoever strikes you on the cheek, offer him the other one also. 

The situation escalated when I confronted the agency's CEO, leading to unforeseen consequences. The department head responded by unilaterally taking me off the team and WhatsApp group, and letting other clients know about my departure without consulting the general manager beforehand. I was not informed or consulted about this decision made without my approval.

This particular type of manager is not unfamiliar to me in my professional career. Although the list of similar encounters is lengthy, this one appears to embody the adage: To keep the fish from rotting, the head has to be smart enough to evaluate what it is doing—or not doing—and make the necessary changes there first regardless of what the changes may be or of the pain that must accompany those changes. Only leadership has the power to make those changes, though they will need the support of their entire team to execute them.

* Written by: Mohammed Al Hasan

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