Want to be a Leader? Lesson One - Try Being Charmless and Uninspiring

Want to be a Leader? Lesson One - Try Being Charmless and Uninspiring

Want to be a Leader? Lesson One - Try Being Charmless and Uninspiring
Want to be a Leader? Lesson One - Try Being Charmless and Uninspiring

Writing an article on leadership should be easy, yes? There are so many articles written on leadership, and all could give material I could borrow for this one, stuff like “passion”, “vision”, and “drive for results”. Yet when I look at the current crop of leaders, I see very little passion or vision. I mostly see somewhat charmless administrators. And this is what makes this article difficult to write – because I’m admitting that for leadership, skills like ability, empathy, and vision might not count for much anymore.

In an ideal world, the leader would have all the best qualities. Unfortunately, more common is the “safe pair of hands” syndrome. The “safe” choice is considered “unflappable”, sometimes characterized as, “Calm in a crisis”. The issue is that I know plenty of people who are unflappable, but they shouldn’t be leaders.

They don’t have qualities like empathy or drive, but they are tactical and political. Both qualities are to be valued but not as leadership qualities alone. The consequence of only promoting individuals that are “safe” means we have lost the imagination and creative strength that drives progress. Instead, our organizations transform to be stagnant and then apathetic as team frustration becomes institutionalized.

Picking just one example; the Forbes article (read 10 million times), “Top 10 Qualities That Make a Great Leader”, lists confidence, honesty, positive attitude, inspiration, and a few more. Add in other qualities that there seems universal agreement a leader should have; loyalty to the team, value risk assessment, strategic focus, empowerment, and drive for results. But all these qualities look in short supply in the leadership tier. More common is ambivalence and political maneuvering.

If you interviewed for a position and mentioned you were curious, insightful, and not afraid to challenge the status quo, then terrific - you’re hired! But not as a leader. Instead you will function as a valued sole contributor. The leader got hired based on their skills with powerpoint, their ability to craft emails, and their political savvy. You were classified as a “loose cannon” when you mentioned you challenged the status quo.

At a client, I noticed a presentation for the employees being advertised; “Dumping Predictable Thinking Defeats the Competition.” Your reaction might be, “See! Leadership doesn’t have to come up with ideas as long as they facilitate them from elsewhere in the company.” And you are right. Ideas don’t need to come from Leadership, but Leadership would be responsible for turning those ideas into reality. But usually, these leaders are too busy telling you why the company can’t follow through and explaining why it is would be difficult to implement for all sorts of “practical reasons”. 

The reasons are probably legitimate, but true leaders find ways to manage these constraints and not allow themselves to be limited by them. If these ideas were easy to implement, the company would already be doing them; Leadership should take on hard challenges and help to transform the conventional wisdom they are fond of complaining about. Promoting “safe” leadership isn’t going to get the heavy lifting done and instead only stifles creativity, all while the same leaders are patting themselves on the back for pointing out the flaws in approaches. Instead, they should be addressing the flaws and improving the situation.

I was going to suggest the solution would be the corporate C-Tier stop saying you value leaders that display reasoned cynicism and boundless enthusiasm, because what you really mean is someone who makes you look good and doesn’t challenge you. The personal needs of the C-Tier are put ahead of the company’s. More value would be created if Senior Execs were more expansive in their choice of leadership, maybe even people who can challenge them, even disagree with them once in a while. 

But that isn’t going to happen. The C-Tier are not looking for challenge but affirmation of their ideas. So perhaps the solution has to rest with every individual who wishes to take a leadership position and influence more than just their own output. The CEO won’t change so aspiring leaders must adapt, and that includes the way that you judge and respond to events:

So to avoid being marked as excitable here is a guide for phrases to avoid:

“You have to be kidding”. This is too emotive; Even if you were to translate to a more robotic, “That doesn’t seem optimal”, you are marked as being critical. You would imagine critical thinking would be valued. However, the passive politician will nod in agreement and make no judgement, which will serve them better than expressing any insight or analysis on impact.

“Well that meeting was a waste of time”. If you have to say anything, I suggest, “Hopefully these meetings will become more productive as time goes on.” If the meeting was productive, you might get away with mentioning it, but judgement or emotion marks you as less stable than the person who said nothing.

“If people would stop sending me so much email I might actually be able to focus on real work.” Even if you are brilliant, knowledgeable, insightful, strategic, and focused on team over self, this sort of complaint now has marked you as a contributor but not a leader. The “leader” is the one generating the emails, usually by copying and forwarding to everyone. Corporate was looking for an unflappable leader, and you just flapped!

And one last word of caution - For the team who are generating ideas and are extending themselves, often with great personal sacrifice, and just saw a less competent “leader” get installed with a 30% pay premium, stock options, and an additional week’s vacation, be careful how you phrase your displeasure; No flapping!

The Author :  Stuart Hamilton

Stuart Hamilton

About : 
To structure the delivery of complex, large-scale transformational projects while managing and coaching multidisciplinary and matrixed teams. Day 1 assistance to develop strategy, roadmap, and execution plan, then execute and manage the implementation.

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