In the late 70s, I learned a painful, but effective, lesson in leadership. At that time, I was playing softball in the Pan Am Games for the Canadian National Team. Leadership of the day was typically male and aggressive, which reflected the team’s coaching ranks. As a result of what I term “troubled” leadership, I witnessed our high-performing team (favoured to win gold) transform into a fragmented, spiritless group who never made the medal competition. My purpose in sharing this story is to trigger memories of your own where you found yourself struggling with a troubled coach, boss or leader.
Troubled leaders share the following characteristics —
- Control Freaks – micromanage everything thinking they are always right
- Erratic Decision Makers – act impulsively and/or indecisively
- Change Avoiders – fear chaos and conflict
- Fear Mongers – promote fear, anger and punishment
- Greedy Egotists – brag and act from a “me first” attitude
- Blame Gamers – take credit for success and dole out blame for mistakes
The great lesson I learned from my troubled athletic leaders was to not give away my personal power to someone just because they inhabited a leadership position. Of course, this meant I needed to take personal responsibility and develop my own skills rather than only allow others to lead. Eventually, it also meant learning when my skills were best suited to lead as well as when it was my time to follow someone else. These are big life lessons, which came to me through the school of hard knocks. Nowhere in my primary or secondary education was I instructed on what a good leader characterized. Given some of our current leadership fiascos — Enron, British Petroleum, Target Canada — I would speculate most of us living today can still make the same claim. Although, hundreds of authors currently write on the subject of leadership, such devastating situations signal that as a global society we have yet to integrate these lessons into our business or community actions.
I continue to shake my head over the level of greed and egotism exhibited in business as proven by Target Canada’s ‘walk-away’ package for ex-CEO Gregg Steinhafel — estimated at $61 M including severance of $15.9 M. As we later learned, Steinhafel’s buy-out exceeded the entire severance for the 17,600 employees who also lost their jobs.
Even closer to home is the leadership war in the New Democratic Party, which currently runs Manitoba’s provincial government. The lack of transparency and honesty with regard to the source of the leadership conflict has people wondering what was going on internally. And, we all know if a team is not playing well together in the sandbox then they are not functioning productively either. Of course, the unresolved conflict calls into question the NDP’s ability to effectively govern the province. Time and time again, we witness the old paradigm of troubled leadership not meeting the needs of contemporary society. Top leaders, whether in business or politics are increasingly being called on to express the following archetypes —
- Positive Innovators – see problems as learning opportunities
- Honest Abe’s – tell the truth even if it hurts
- Transparency Advocates – share information openly
- Inspirational Coaches – delegate to, develop and praise others
- Team Builders – listen and align everyone toward an agreed-upon direction
- Emotional & Social Mentors – patiently groom self- and other-awareness
An example of top leadership was illustrated by Japanese Airline’s CEO, Haruka Nishimatsu, who cut his corporate perks and salary to $90K (less than his pilots) during a time of layoffs and constraints. Nishimatsu claims Japan’s great leadership lesson — businesses who pursue money first, fail — occurred as a result of its Bubble economy when “the country abandoned it’s traditional moral, social, cultural values and became greedy.” Japan’s story of its lost decade is shared by every developed and developing nation worldwide.
When global governance systems implode, it is a clear signal revolutionary change is needed. We are facing a leadership revolution, and it is our personal choices about how we will lead and be led by others that will determine whether troubled leadership is replaced by top leadership. When you consider your own leadership style, are you troubled or at the top of your game? Choose one characteristic from each category that describes aspects of your leadership behaviour. What one step can you take to turn troubled into top-performer?