Sunday, February 7, 2016

What's Wrong With Leadership Today?

As years roll into decades the image of leadership seems to be sadly going downhill fast. While there is an increase in firms and individuals offering leadership development solutions, the world as a whole seems to lack the face of even one inspirational leader. Which makes one wonder what current leadership development is focusing on and why it isn’t having any impact – at least noticeable impact.
There are excellent inspirational leaders out there – I have the pleasure to meet more than my fair share; as will many reading this – but these leaders aren’t becoming visible to make a real difference where it counts; which is way beyond the walls of their own organisations.
As much as we’d like to think business and politics are miles apart – sadly in today’s world the umbilical cord between the two has not been cut; with most politicians and their respected parties around the world being financed through big corporate donors.  Where for some strange reason politics has simply become entertainment – where, for example, the media parade future leaders out in front of the public and either attempt to humiliate them; or the candidates seem to have a natural instinct to humiliate themselves.
If our current and future world leaders are being portrayed as a ‘form’ of entertainment – what ‘inspirational’ impact can this have on the millions around the world watching – wanting to be inspired to be better, but being ‘taught’ sets of values that have absolutely no place in an effective leaders repertoire. This must lead to complete confusion in the emerging leaders mind – reading what leadership is about from the millions of related articles; and hearing what leadership is about from an abundance of courses; and then comparing these ‘stories’ with seeing today’s leaders in action. What are they more likely to believe and react to – what they read or what they see in action?
In a brilliant 2016 Harvard Business Review article by Jack Zenger and Joseph Falkman entitled ‘the trickle-down effect of good (and bad) leadership’ they highlight how “we know that emotions are contagious. Research by UC San Diego’s James Fowler and Harvard’s Nicholas Christakis has shown that happiness is contagious, for example. If you have a friend who is happy, the probability that you will be happier rises by 25%. We also know that behaviours are contagious. Christakis and Fowler determined that if you have overweight friends, you’re more likely to be overweight yourself. If you quit smoking, your friends are more likely to quit. Rose McDermott of Brown University found that divorce is contagious; etc.
We wanted to know how such ‘social contagion’ affects leaders. We already know that good leadership creates engaged employees and that leaders influence a variety of outcomes such as personnel turnover, customer satisfaction, sales, revenue, productivity, and so on. But if you’re a good leader, do you make the people around you more likely to become good leaders as well? And which behaviors are most readily ‘caught’?”
So we should be aware that today’s bad leaders and the portrayal of bad leadership behavior is simply creating future generations of poor leaders; and worse still poor leaders who actually think they are good – and will be able to pull out of the archives video clips of supposed top leaders behaving in the same way they do.
The media seem to assume that the population of future leaders can see through the entertainment aspect of their portrayal of effective leadership – but that is a bridge too far in their thinking and the fundamental flaw in their theory.
Zenger and Falkman highlight how “specifically, we tested 51 behaviours and found significant correlations in over 30 of them. (All 51 showed some correlation, but not all the correlations were statistically significant.) Within the behaviours that appeared contagious, there were some that appeared even more contagious than others. Behaviours that had the highest correlations between managers and their direct reports clustered around the following themes, listed in order of most contagious to least contagious:
1) Developing self and others
2) Technical skills
3) Strategy skills
4) Consideration and cooperation
5) Integrity and honesty
6) Global perspective
7) Decisiveness
8) Results focus
We also examined overall performance. Unsurprisingly, the direct reports of the worst-performing HL (high level) managers were also below-average performers.”
It’s worth looking at the list one more time, slowly, and then visualizing the impact both positive and negative influencers would have on each of these behaviors and how this would manifest itself in the work place and in future leadership development.
As the world waits for the inspirational leaders to show themselves; we also have a responsibility to not just talk about effective leadership; but enact it on a daily basis as well – and that’s in all our interactions, including social media as well.
It’s worth concluding with a 2014 report from the Center for Creative Leadership, which stated that “more complex and adaptive thinking abilities are needed” and “leaders are no longer developing fast enough or in the right ways to match the new environment.”
Zenger, J. and Falkman, J. (2016). The Trickle-Down Effect of Good (and Bad) Leadership. Harvard Business Review. January.