February 2019 – Question of the Month
February 20, 2019 - By Wendy Lambourne, Director, MA Industrial and Organisation Psychology, Registered Psychologist with SA Medical & Dental Council
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Question of the Month: Can anyone lead, or is leadership just for charismatic people?
Answer: The original research shows that trust in a leader is granted or withheld only on the basis of the employee’s perceptions of leadership’s genuine concern for their welfare. Extrapolating from this, leaders stand or fall on the basis of a single criterion: their INTENT or motive. Those in positions of authority, in essence, succeed to the degree to which they are there to “give” to their people (as opposed to “get” something out of them). Their intent bears no relationship to intellect, qualifications, interpersonal skill, managerial style or even personality. Each individual – no one else – determines the motive(s) behind their actions. Intent, and by extension leadership, is therefore a matter of the will. From experience, most managers who are taken through the above logic feel liberated because they are released from the notion that only those blessed with a charismatic personality, superior intellect, oratory skill and an inclusive management style can lead.
Yet there are still people in positions of authority who absolutely understand intent but still don’t succeed in leadership roles. They fall short against the care and growth criteria because of personal attributes which constitute fatal flaws in leading others.
We have found six attributes which seriously undermine leaders’ capacity to lead in line with the care and growth criteria.
- Virtuosity or superior technical skill or prowess in a given field. This is an asset – but not for someone in a care and growth role. This is because the giving required of leaders is a giving to people, not to things. The Virtuoso may well want to make a contribution, but to things not people. As a result, Virtuosos hold onto what they know and love, which is the technical stuff, and neglect the care and growth of their people.
- Affiliation or a need to be connected to or in harmony with others. Strongly affiliative leaders have a need to fraternise with their subordinates. Their need to be closely connected, to be friends, with their people can make it difficult to establish an appropriate distance from them or to hold them accountable when required. Taken further, a strong need to always put the relationship first can result in nepotism or undue patronage with the person/people with whom the leader has a special relationship.
- Micro management and the enablement of others are mutually exclusive. This is because the empowerment of people, which is at the core of the Legitimate Leadership Model, is not possible without the capacity for trust and entrustment. Those in authority who need to be in control of outcomes find it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to let go. They constantly check up on or second-guess the decisions taken by their subordinates.
- Ego-driven leaders are in it for themselves. The success they strive for is their success, reflected in their position, level or significance – not that of their people. Their extreme competitiveness is experienced as ambition, sometimes ruthless ambition. They make very poor coaches. At an extreme, they diminish their people – in order to be “big “; they keep others “small “, which is the very opposite of what a legitimate leader is there to do.
- Victims feel themselves to be at the mercy of forces beyond their control. They have what psychologists refer to as an “external locus of control”. Victims in charge are a problem. This is because victim behaviour is contagious, victims beget victims. Victim leaders often take the opportunity which high office affords them to get their own back on those they are convinced have disadvantaged them in the past. They use their position to take what they believe they are owed or are entitled to. At an extreme they plunder the resources that they have access to.
- Lack of empathy can be experienced as a leader who lacks the “common touch”, is too patrician or aloof. Of greater concern is a person in authority who simply does not have a sincere concern for those in his/her charge, who has no compassion. This kind of leader is seen as hard-hearted, as a person who would easily sacrifice the people for the results, and who would never sacrifice the results for the people.