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Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2007, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Most of us have watched a number of bad leaders up close. If you are lucky you may have experienced just one, and learned from it. It’s worthwhile to observe a bad leader in action and vow, “I’ll never behave like that.” However, in the past few years, a lot of managers have had the traumatic experience of working for a “celebrity” bad leader. While news reports of bad leaders imploding rightfully point to dramatic loss of shareholder value, they rarely mention the thousands of subordinates’ careers derailed and resumes blemished.
One of the big mysteries of the current era is “Why are there so many bad leaders in the news and why weren’t they identified and excluded during the recruitment screening process?”
My guess is that the capabilities and sensitivities corporations have developed to spot bad business unit managers aren’t always used to weed out bad candidates for top leadership. Unit managers operate in a world of 360 degree feedback. Increasingly, their job is to steer a participatory democracy where creative talent and technologists speak truth to power, where customers rule, and where almost every facet of their business is instantly on view by their bosses and subordinates. Given all this attention, unit managers who behave self indulgently, arrogantly or mendaciously couldn’t keep their office.
But what happens when boards get desperate and go looking for savior leaders? Or when boards get greedy and pick a despot to restructure the company and pump the stock? In such cases, I suspect they purposefully don’t cull out all the narcissists and tyrants or the self serving, self dramatizing candidates. Another source of bad leaders are the imperialist founders who rule their submissive boards and everyone else. Whatever route bad leaders take to power, we have to cope with them.
So this timely special issue offers four feature articles that look at bad leadership and suggest remedies and preventions. They offer lessons that will be helpful to current and potential leaders, their followers and boards:
Bill George and Andrew McLean’s interviews of 125 successful, authentic leaders revealed that all of them faced significant personal development hazards during their career’s progress. Many leaders described their early life as if it were the quest of an all-conquering hero. But acting as a hero was just a stage that the successful ones moved through on their journey to mature leadership. The heroic model of leadership turns out to be merely an early phase – one with risks, temptations, misbehaviors – and one that needs to be outgrown before reaching the pinnacle of power.
Robert J. Allio offers a twin-scenario model of leadership development. In one scenario, highly stressed leaders become battle-scarred pragmatists. But in the other they act out a destructive alternative scenario. In it, the would-be visionary, seduced by power and a growing sense of certitude, first becomes isolated and then gets lost. When plans fail to deliver wins, the leader grows tyrannical, wields power wrongly, and devolves into a fallen star and self-serving “decider,” often surrounded by fawning acolytes. Sound familiar?
Bert Spector and Henry Lane warn that when managing corporate culture, leaders must tread a surprisingly fine line between promoting a high performance organization and one that is cultish. To illustrate the difference between the two, the authors compare General Electric with Enron, a failed organization that had many characteristics of a cult.
Joel H. Amernic and Russell J. Craig have been monitoring and weighing the style of the language as well as the content of what CEOs say. They show how stakeholder communications can unintentionally reveal the narcissist tendencies of leadership and a management that’s out of touch with reality. Sic semper tyrannis! Good reading,
Robert M. RandallEditor