Sunday, November 3, 2013

How Do We Help Bad Leaders Realise They’re Bad?

Amy Anderson wrote that “when good leadership is in place in a company, it can be felt throughout the entire organization. With good leadership, corporate culture isn’t forced, it is developed. Communication is daily and open. Everyone understands the vision and goals of the organization, and everyone has input into how they can be improved. Employees feel that they are an important part of the whole and that every job matters within the company. Decisions for promotions are based on picking people of integrity whose talents and experience best fit the positions. Employees are encouraged to compete with their own best to get ahead and they understand that helping their coworkers to succeed is the best way to get ahead themselves. The result of good leadership is high morale, good employee retention, and sustainable long-term success.”
Amy writes what many of us know – in fact, it’s good common sense – but we still seem to operate in a business environment where ‘good’ leadership is the exception rather than the rule. Part of the problem is that many of the discussions around leaders and leadership development talk about the development of our future leaders – but what about the current leaders and what about the multitude of bad leaders – how do we develop and change them?
Jean Lipman-Blumen's wrote in her book, The Allure of Toxic Leaders : Why We Follow Destructive Bosses and Corrupt Politicians—and How We Can Survive Them, “that there was and still is a tendency among contemporary society to seek authoritative, even dominating characteristics among our corporate and political leaders because of the public's own personal psychosocial needs and emotional weaknesses.”
Where Jean noticed "toxic leadership" was not about run-of-the-mill mismanagement. Rather, it referred to leaders, who, by virtue of their 'dysfunctional personal characteristics' and 'destructive behaviours' inflict reasonably serious and enduring harm not only on their own followers and organizations, but on others outside of their immediate circle of victims and subordinates, as well. A ‘noted’ rule of thumb suggests that toxic leaders leave their followers and others who come within their sphere of influence worse off than they found them - either on a personal and/or corporate basis.
But one question that seems to have been avoided is ‘do bad leaders actually know they are bad? Or do they generally think they are good? – and hence don’t even realise that they need to change.
In large corporate organisations there can be a very ‘unique and unusual’ cultural traits that some outside the organisation may consider unhealthy, but those inside the organisation consider simple ‘survival’. Individuals work for large corporations for many reasons that go beyond the simple ‘job satisfaction’ tag and can include access to unbelievable financial awards that are achieved after lengthy terms of tenure. To put things in perspective, these financial awards or incentives, aren’t just small amounts of money but are life changing amounts – that can allow employees and their families to be set for life and enjoy the fruits of early retirement.
But of course with these incentives come ‘choices’ in respect of what employees are prepared to ‘put up with’ to gain access to this ‘potential wealth’. In the aftermath of a global crisis where many have lost their jobs and poverty is increasing what advice would you give someone with these choices when they find themselves ‘lead’ by a bad leader – should they leave and take their chances that the next boss they meet is going to be that ‘rare’ good leader – or would you advise them to keep their head down, do the time and take the rewards that go with it – then you can stick two fingers (or one) up to the ‘leader’ and ‘organisation’ and go and enjoy life.
So if employees aren’t going to tell bad leaders just how bad they are because it’s simply not in their interests to do so, we need leaders themselves to become more self-aware and the organisation from the top-down, led by the board, to focus on developing good and effective leaders now – for today not just for tomorrow.
It’s worth looking at some of the traits of bad leadership and Barbara Kellerman wrote in her book ‘Bad Leadership: What It Is, How It Happens, Why It Matters’ that toxicity in leadership (or simply, bad leadership) may be analysed into seven different types:
1) Incompetent – the leader and at least some followers lack the will or skill (or both) to sustain effective action. With regard to at least one important leadership challenge, they do not create positive change.
2) Rigid – the leader and at least some followers are stiff and unyielding. Although they may be competent, they are unable or unwilling to adapt to new ideas, new information, or changing times.
3) Intemperate – the leader lacks self-control and is aided and abetted by followers who are unwilling or unable to effectively intervene.
4) Callous – the leader and at least some followers are uncaring or unkind. Ignored and discounted are the needs, wants, and wishes of most members of the group or organization, especially subordinates.
5) Corrupt – the leader and at least some followers lie, cheat, or steal. To a degree that exceeds the norm, they put self-interest ahead of the public interest.
6) Insular – the leader and at least some followers minimize or disregard the health and welfare of those outside the group or organization for which they are directly responsible.
7) Evil – the leader and at least some followers commit atrocities. They use pain as an instrument of power. The harm can be physical, psychological or both.
What the business world and beyond needs now are good leaders and we have to find effective ways to let bad leaders know they are bad without employees being burnt at the stake. Since as Amy Anderson mentions, “for anyone who is ever granted the opportunity to take a leadership position, remember that being a true leader doesn’t come from a title, it is a designation you must earn from the people you lead.”
Anderson, A.R. (2005). Good Leaders Are Invaluable To A Company. Bad Leaders Will Destroy It. Forbes. []

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