Developing People: Recognising Different Leadership Behaviours

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23rd Apr 2020

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Whether boards and Nomination Committees are looking for ‘captains’, ‘navigators’, ‘engineers’, or ‘builders’ as leaders, they need to remember two key factors. Leadership is morally neutral and there are six leadership styles with different levels of effectiveness.

Leadership is morally neutral

Leadership is morally neutral, so effective leaders may be good or bad people. The only thing leaders need to be treated as leaders; is they have followers. You might well ask: why do leaders lead and followers follow? The answer is self-interest.

Leaders and followers engage in a compact designed to protect everyone against the anxieties caused by disorder and death. It is this that unites the thinking of Machiavelli, Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau.

Their positions, however, differ greatly on the emphasis placed on the obligations they believe leaders have to fulfil; and levels of coercion leaders must use, if they are to maintain legitimacy in the eyes of their followers.

Morally good and bad leaders compared:

Sociologists divide leaders into ‘resonant’, good leaders like Nelson Mandela or Mahatma Gandhi who inspire and lead followers by example, without having to resort to power and position; and ‘dissonant’, effective immoral leaders who use fear and force to coerce followers like Hitler, Mao or Kim Jong Un. Most leaders sit somewhere in between on the spectrum of ‘resonant’ and ‘dissonant’ leadership.

Many modern leadership thinkers and trainers tend to ignore the fact that history is full of effective, immoral leaders who led their followers, not by example, but through fear and coercion – often highly effective ‘dissonant leadership’. They focus instead on ‘resonant leadership’. Table 1 provides a checklist of eight behaviours by which followers can evaluate their leaders.

Table 1: ‘Great Good’ and ‘Great Bad’ Leadership Compared

‘Great Good’ (Resonant) Leaders‘Great Bad’ (Dissonant) Leaders
1. Find the energy to create a better future1. Find the energy to create change, though often not for the better
2. Have a clear purpose at all times2. Have a clear purpose at all times
3. Lead with values and by example3. Lead through fear and force
4. Welcome the 'courage to speak truth to power'4. Discourage dissent and shoot the messenger
5. Learn from failure5. Punish failure
6. Recruit co-leaders and share authority and responsibility6. Centralise control and authority; are bottlenecks in decision-making
7. Move from 'I' to 'We' thinking and create collective success7. Manipulate their followers for self-serving agendas
8. Create a lasting legacy8. Fail to create a lasting legacy

Independent checks and balances are essential, if ‘great good’ leaders are to resist the temptation of becoming ‘great bad’ leaders – the role of corporate governance in companies and separation of powers in politics.

Six leadership styles

There are six styles in increasing order of effectiveness, with different recognisable characteristics and outcomes:

1. Unpredictable

Perhaps the best example of an unpredictable leader is Donald Trump, if we are to believe Fire and Fury and the New York Times’ coverage of what goes on in the White House. What is clear is that the predicted outcomes of this type of leadership show up in dysfunctional behaviour:

Lack of focus; inconsistent policies and resulting flipflops and ‘rowing back’, causing hesitant, fearful and tentative followers in the administration who do not know when they will be contradicted by their leader – whether it is on immigration, Iran or trade – leading to backstabbing and a record churn of senior officials.

2. Passive

In this case, obvious problems persist because the leader does not know what to do and therefore does nothing as a result. The leader appears not to care and so the followers cease caring as well.

As a result, the followers become disengaged; problems do not get addressed and are ‘kicked into the long grass’ instead; left to somebody else to deal with later and so there is no progress.

3. Secretive

Such leaders hoard information because ‘information is power’ and treat their followers as “You’re not important enough to know; I can’t tell you this”. The resulting lack of trust destroys effective teamwork because, as Simon Sinek put it:

A team is not a group of people who work together. A team is a group of people who trust each other.

The resulting limited feedback created by a lack of buy-in by followers and a lack of care about their success, undermines the success of their leaders.

You only need to watch HBO’s recent miniseries ‘Chernobyl’ to see how distrust, guarded followers, silo mentality, and miscommunication made the nuclear disaster worse.

4. Domineering

It’s my way or the highway.

Such leaders intimidate or threaten people into following them, producing short-term results, but long-term failure. They create a culture of ‘yes’ people and weak teams. They get compliance, not commitment.

The Global Financial Crisis saw Lehman Brothers, Bear Stearns and Merrill Lynch in the US and Royal Bank of Scotland in the UK go bankrupt because of domineering CEOs who did not listen to subordinates who warned them of the potential for disaster.

They managed by fear, getting compliance but no commitment because those who had the ‘courage to speak truth to power’ were fired. They did achieve great short-term results, but at the expense of long-term failure.

This might interest you: How Leaders Kill Ideas and Truth

5. Authentic

Bill George, in his article “What Does Authentic Leadership Really Mean?”, defined it as follows:

“People of the highest integrity, committed to building enduring organisations…who have a deep sense of purpose and are true to their core values who have the courage to build their companies to meet the needs of all their stakeholders, and who recognise the importance of their service to society.”

They understand their purpose, practice solid values, lead with the heart, establish connected relationships, and demonstrate self-discipline. They provide clarity of vision and direction, ‘walking the walk and talking the talk’. They encourage open, transparent, trusting communication to achieve high levels of engagement, creating active buy-in.

Read: Can Servant Leadership Be Part Of The Solution To Our World’s Issues?

6. Empowering

Empowering leaders recognise people respond best to three intrinsic motivators: autonomy to decide how to fulfil tasks people have set, achieving self-mastery, and making a difference. The reason these three extrinsic motivators are so much more powerful than any extrinsic motivators such as pay, bonus or promotion is that they are not subject to diminishing returns.

As a result, empowering leaders delegate authority and responsibility to subordinates to create and innovate and in the words of Peter Drucker, “get out of their way and let them get on with doing their work”. Thus, people deep within the organisation have the ability to say ‘Yes’ when faced with unforeseen situations.

They experience satisfaction in their work; believe in the organisation’s mission and vision and thrive on a sense of challenge over which they have control. Front-liners have the freedom to make decisions; to make changes and implement new ideas. Perhaps most important of all, empowering leaders do not just produce engaged followers; they develop other great leaders.

To conclude

Effective leaders can be good or bad. ‘Great good’ leaders can become ‘great bad’ leaders if there are no constraints on their exercise of power. When choosing leaders, boards must assess which of these six leadership styles candidates will adopt.

Read also: The 4 Types of Leaders in Thriving Organisations


Datuk John Zinkin is managing director of Zinkin Ettinger Sdn. Bhd. and author of Better Governance Across the Board. Get in touch with him at editor@leaderonomics.com

This article first appeared on Focus Malaysia

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