CEO – ‘The firm’ Ex. Group President HR
We live in a complex age of ‘surprises’, the culture of which is portrayed on best-seller magazine covers, each narrating well documented stories of these celebrity leaders. Leaders who made successful ‘turn-arounds’. Leaders who lead transformations under stressful situations. Leaders who epitomised celebrated ‘best practises’. Leaders who challenged adverse market conditions and built unbelievable enterprise ‘value’. All stories of courage and conviction highlighting the bright traits & styles of these leaders.
Unfortunately, the reality is that these celebrities are also normal men of skin, bones and emotions who live every moment of their celebrated professional lives on their suppressed human vulnerabilities. We partake in episodal celebration of their successes and admirable leadership traits from which we draw generalisations to distil the ‘lessons learnt’ . We however prefer to blissfully ignore the dark sides of their personalities from which we should also be taking the equally meaningful ‘real’ lessons of success.
Leadership strengths reflect a natural pattern to tag along with itself some ‘negative traits’, which are , also in a way, the unintended consequences of their strengths. These ‘spoiler’ traits have a tendency to show up their vulnerabilities most in moments of acute stress. Very much like our body where certain deep aches and pains show up when the body is exposed to other health challenges. Unpredictable and complex market realities compounded by rigid culture and internal political dynamics provides sufficient impetus in corporates for these ‘spoiler traits’ to show-up. No doubt one now sees successful leaders at times suddenly collapsing and the life span of leaders in senior leadership roles ever declining !
The main take-away lesson from this piece is very simple. Albeit leaders are products of their knowledge, attitudes and other competencies, each leader tags along his share of ‘Spoilers’ which he has a tendency to be vulnerable to. Leaders who are authentically in touch with their leadership styles, know their strengths and are thus also very much in touch with their vulnerabilities. They identify the triggers that ‘switch-on’ the flow of these spoilers within their styles, when in action. Accordingly, they are able to insulate themselves and so are equipped to cope better. Being mindful allows the make-up artist hidden within to choose multiple ways to graft a different skin and cause a make over. They succeed in not letting Spoilers become a nemesis of their leadership journey. You too could. The
Six Leadership Spoilers are:
Intolerable Dominance Inherent in the concept of leadership is a need for controlled dominance as the behaviour of the collectivity of people needs to be directed to a common purpose. Dominance roots itself from Confidence. Unfortunately, the unintended consequences of continuous exposure to dominance is that it tends to foster self-blinding belief in one’s own brilliance. A thin line differentiates : ‘Lack of Confidence and Confidence from Over Confidence’…& invariably most leaders cross the line. They begin with confidence (and that is why they become leaders in the first place) but tend to at some pointà lose out as they cross over & become over-confident (which unfortunately becomes their last place!!!). Positively assertive behaviour becomes over dominance, conversations become lectures, insults get heaved on disagreements even on petty issues. An arrogantly distorted view of reality gets mandated through intolerance. World events are re-interpreted to force-feed such a leader’s views and perspectives. Such leaders stop learning, resists change and do not acknowledge their own limitations. If they see even remote potential of brilliance in their team, they tend to destroy it, in a blinded desire to self-perpetuate. Attrition of ‘hi-pos’ from such a team is but natural . Only the compliant & the unambitious thrive under a leader with intolerable dominance.
Mercurial Temper Volatatality is natural in Mercury. It is an immediate and a direct reaction to the temperature it is exposed to. Mature leadership however differentiates itself by not reflecting this Mercurial characteristic through display of planned calmness even when the external temperature is hot. Corporate ambience is generously strewn with events and frustrating situations that cause stress. Managers who are immature, not seasoned or suitably coached, tend to short-fuse themselves and display intemperate behaviours as natural reaction to such stressful situations.
High decibel insulting language and disparaging behaviours are natural accompaniments. There is an air of fear and forced engagement in such teams. They are motivated more by compliance than by spontaneous emotional connect. Teams hold back their free contributions and only feed the demon what it wants. Such teams indulge in mood management of their boss more than crisis management of their enterprise challenges. Whilst anger is a valid human emotion, it’s uncontrolled display can only make an effective leader unacceptable to the team. Such leaders lose their edge to influence and hence their edge to lead thru frequent display of their temper. Cool your temper and meditate.
Frozen Confidence Caution is prudent in all walks of life, particularly business. But unless controlled, there is a natural tendency for prudence to freeze confidence. Infact there are 5 distinguished Zones of Prudence…Rash – Cautious – Prudently Cautious – Conservatively Cautious and – Judgmentally Paralysed (JP). No one needs to operate either from the Rash or the JP zone. These are dangerous and dysfunctional. Depending on your role, nature of your assigned responsibility and your style, effective leaders operate between the three Zones of Cautious – Prudently Cautious and Conservatively Cautious. Some later day, we will discuss the fine differences in the five degrees of Caution. But needless to say that if you are judgmentally paralysed, you freeze your confidence to act by never-ending paralytic inquests. And the day you do that, you loose your ability to lead because leadership is primarily about ability to inspire quick action. Analysis beyond a reasonable point indicates insecurity that does not allow progress further. Knowledge is not always power if it keeps creating doubts rather than providing confidence thru clarity. Nauseatic analysis purely out of fear that no mistakes are made becomes an obsession that makes you a ‘caution maniac’. No follower follows an insecure analysis freak. You shake-off your insecurity if you do not want such roadblocks.
Hyper Suspicion This is a trust based spoiler. But that should not suggest that post analysis to have a judgmental doubt on an issue, decision or outcome is in anyways wrong. The 5 degrees of separation here are : Egregious Distrust – Virulent Scepticism – Analysed Doubt – Trust and Blind Trust. The inner gut feel often throws up doubts. This is just an inner and instant evaluation based on past learning, knowledge, experiences, observations etc which throws up prompts on the ‘trust – distrust’ dilemma that frequently plagues all of us. The tail ends of this spectrum are as always (whichever end) dangerous to be in. The problem is that if we allow ourselves to be not controlled and slip-over the fine lines, that would be the best way to sabotage your Leadership career. A culture of distrust cannot thrive in a digital era of speed. We have to begin with trust unless subsequent experiences indicate otherwise. Needless to say that you are not being prompted to throw caution out of the window and blindly trust. Also it would be foolish to believe that merely because you don’t attack the Tiger, the Tiger won’t attack you. But that is extreme. Distrustful leaders do not consciously realise that this is their spoiler. Wisdom is to analyse ‘why’ behind the distrust. Is it data based, experience based or purely clinical…that should be your guide. It is foolish to be gullible and naive but it is equally dysfunctional to be Egregiously Distrusting. This is a major shortcoming for a growing career in leadership and you rather shake yourself out of it, if you believe you are a victim of such derailing mind-set.
Painful Aloofness Unfortunately, aloofness is associated with pride and ones desire to not mix up with the general crowd. This becomes sufficient cause for the fall of a leader as it destroys the bond of emotional relationship that blinds the leader to his team. It creates a wedge. A leader could be cerebral that is good but being aloof will cut the emotional roots and will hinder his ability to inspire action from his team members. Remember, MALIA – Most Admired Leaders Inspire Actions. A leader who is aloof does not communicate, creates a distance and thus loses his ability to Inspire Action ! Distance also impairs his ability to align by isolation. He gets cut-off from people’s ideas, views, information and opinions. In absence of an emotional bond, a leader cannot build passion in his people and their drive to succeed gets diminished. He cannot influence commitment. The aloof leader may be effective in a solo-performer role say in areas like R&D and such other set-ups. But wherever a ‘Leader of Leaders’ role needs to be performed, an aloof leader is certainly a wrong choice. Being stiff and aloof is a distinct spoiler to your career growth. You need to loosen a bit and plan your way up into the hearts of your people. Quiet leadership is different from aloof leadership. Aloof disconnects and thus disengages.
Destructive Sub-serviance A popularity hungry leader who has inability to take unpleasant decisions soon writes his obituary. Some leaders believe that their success emerges from their ability to keep all members of their team always very pleased and happy. They are constantly involved in settling ruffled feathers. The most obvious front used to cover up this dysfunctional behaviour is ‘People Orientation’. Such leaders are in popularity contests. Generally #2s in a depart reflect such behaviours as they seek the teams popularity vote in their subtle contest with the de facto leader. Policies are violated. Undue awards are granted. But the fact remains that this is only a cover-up. The leader is popularity focused and hates to displease any team member however wrong he may be. He is very worried about losing peoples’ favour and puts a huge premium on loyalty. Such style in leadership ends up promising things outside their scope and not within framework of policy. This ends up creating confusion, chaos and creates a counter pressure from all sides seeking such gross out of line favours. Such chaos is counterproductive to the enterprise and thus leadership fails. One of the prime rules of leadership as stated by Dotlich Cairo is that it is better for a leader to be respected than liked. This is what such a leader should bear in mind. ????There could be many other Spoilers which could come in the way of a leader’s journey to the top. Desire to be perfect all the time is one. Being eccentric is another. Wanting to be in the centre of every thing thus grabbing all attention, all the time could be yet another. The above are the dominant ones, which I have experienced as a Leadership Coach more frequently. Your knowledge, skills, maturity and experience may all be the basis of your march to the top. Do not let some of these SPOILERS pull you down and come in the way of your journey to the success. And as a Mentor or a Coach, help your mentee identify his/her Spoilers and work on plans to emerge winning with them !