Leadership in the twenty-first century

 

Senior executives need support, exceptional drive and excellent interpersonal skills to push themselves and others to succeed, but under pressure and given too free a rein (or technically, large managerial discretion), the skills and qualities that leaders have previously relied upon to get them to the top can go into overdrive, becoming self-defeating or counterproductive behaviours that lead ultimately to derailment.

Added on 15 November 2014 by Erik de Haan

Leadership in the twenty first century

In his groundbreaking book Capital in the 21st Century, Thomas Piketty (2014) shows that the present rate of return on capital being higher than economic growth is leading to increasing wealth and income inequality, which, ultimately, stifles our growth and prosperity. For some time I have noticed a similar pattern applying to top leadership in corporates, where current growth rates of managerial discretion topple increases in leadership effectiveness, which is leading to organisational inequalities that are stifling the same organisation’s development, agility and growth.

There are important differences between leadership success (in terms of, for example, staying in the job and promotions) and leadership effectiveness (in terms of, for example, helping to grow the organisation’s bottom line or fostering a close-knit and successful team).

For leaders to be successful they need to grow their sphere of influence, that is they need to influence decisions personally or at least be seen as successful. In other words, they need to grow their ‘managerial discretion’ – a technical concept defining their spheres of influence. In short, to be successful they need to stamp their authority on their teams. But, for leaders to be effective they need to be influenced themselves, they need to aggregate a variety of views and receive the support to implement the best decisions. To be effective they need to connect their teams in such a way that their reports can develop their authority.

I would argue that for organisations to be at their most successful they need to provide conditions for individual leadership to be effective not successful, and for leadership to be shared or bottom-up not top-down or transformational.

The problem with managerial discretion is that while it helps leaders to be successful and have a direct impact on the business, discretion as expressed in power, gravitas and influence, also conspires to corrupt leaders.

To my knowledge there is no evidence that strong leadership contributes significantly to the bottom line, but strong leaders are still being wooed by most corporates. Moreover, top leader remuneration is already many times the average employee’s, as well as rising much quicker.

Senior executives need support, exceptional drive and excellent interpersonal skills to push themselves and others to succeed, but under pressure and given too free a rein (or technically, large managerial discretion), the skills and qualities that leaders have previously relied upon to get them to the top can go into overdrive, becoming self-defeating or counterproductive behaviours that lead ultimately to derailment.

Knowing how to challenge those self-defeating behaviours is critical in taming ‘the leadership shadow’ and can help leaders to find stability in the face of uncertainty, resilience in the face of gruelling demand, and psychological equilibrium as a leader.

In our recent book The Leadership Shadow we identified eleven patterns or ‘strands’ of personality that emerge at different times and in many shades of intensity, from the slightly neurotic to the full-blown deranged, using medical terminology.

These provide an overview of possibilities of going into overdrive, with new insights for executives’ circumstances and behaviours. The strands also help leaders and executive coaches identify when traits are constructive and productive and when they become problematic and counterproductive. The personality strands identified are based on the experience that each of us has a personal leadership profile, with its own highly personal ‘derailer’ behaviour. Below are just four examples of leadership patterns and how they go into overdrive:

  • The charming manipulators, whose actions may brush up against the rules and mould them to their own design. In this leadership pattern, strict accountability may go out of the window, because their own accountability may be relegated to the ‘shadow’. Antisocial patterns linked with the charming manipulator: the leader believes the rules are made to be broken and finds it hard to be held accountable for her/his actions.
  • The playful encouragers, whose influence is felt mainly indirectly. In this leadership pattern full responsibility for taking action may be difficult, as responsibility may be relegated to the ‘shadow’. Passive-aggressive patterns linked with the playful encourager: what one says is not what one really believes and so leaders find it hard to take responsibility for their views and actions.
  • Glowing Gatsbies, who influence from the front and bask in their successes. In this leadership pattern it may be easier to criticise others but harder to look at oneself in a similar way, as the leader’s humility may have been relegated to the ‘shadow’. Narcissistic patterns linked with the glowing Gatsby: the leader believes that he or she is right, whilst everyone else is wrong and not up to their jobs.
  • Detached diplomats, whose actions remain largely in their own world, disengaged and disconnected from those around them. In this leadership pattern it may be hard to keep the organisation’s issues and people into focus, as the leader’s ability to reach out may be relegated to the ‘shadow’. When this pattern is highly developed the leader seems very absent. Schizoid patterns linked with the detached diplomat: leaders disengaged and disconnected from the everyday running of the business.

The Leadership Shadow – How to Recognise and Avoid Derailment, Hubris and Overdrive by Erik de Haan and Anthony Kasozi. Published by Kogan Page, 2014, price £24.99.