The right (and wrong) style
Robert Hogan, a psychologist and global authority on leadership and organisational effectiveness, surveyed more than 1 000 employees about the personalities of their best and worst bosses.
He found that manager personality is a valuable predictor of employee engagement. Managers who tended to be calm, business-focused, organised and willing to listen were three times as likely to have highly engaged work groups, compared to managers described as manipulative, arrogant, distractible and overly attention-seeking.
“Arrogant bosses tend to blame their mistakes on others, overestimate their competence and lack a sense of team loyalty,” Hogan wrote in his study. “Manipulative managers often ignore commitments, bend the rules and disregard others’ concerns. These tendencies undermine manager-employee trust and can damage engagement.”
In Bankable Leadership, Eurich outlines two archetypes, one at each end of the spectrum, both equally ineffective.
Cool parents versus bunny boilers
First, there’s the ‘cool parent,’ who focuses on the team’s happiness at all costs. “They don’t set expectations, give honest feedback or make tough decisions,” she says. “It might feel pleasant at first, but as soon as you need tough-but-true feedback, they would freeze like a deer in headlights.”
Then there’s the ‘trail of dead bodies’ type of boss. “This leader requires gruelling hours, is never satisfied and withholds recognition,” Eurich says.
Leaders of this type may help you ‘up your game’ initially, she explains, but in the long term, they drive results so aggressively that you suffer both physically from overwork and mentally from lack of appreciation.
The ‘bankable’ leader is able to move to the middle, Eurich contends, understanding and caring for team members while setting aggressive performance targets. “Think of the best manager you’ve ever had,” she says. “He or she might have been a walking contradiction. They provide recognition and push for continuous achievement. They help you succeed and accept responsibility for your successes and failures.”
Beware of any one-size-fits-all approach, says Barbara Kellerman, a lecturer in public leadership at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. The solutions for effective leadership at a 20-person plumbing-supply company will be wildly different than those for a multi-billion dollar tech company. Kellerman, who has written more than 15 books on leadership, also throws cold water on the notion that any corporate knight in shining armour is likely to save the day.
“The longer I’m in the field – the ‘leadership industry’ I call it – the less I’m persuaded to talk about a leader as some saintly, amazing person,” she says. “It’s perfectly idiotic.”
Psychopaths in the boardroom
Executive coach Ray Williams, a columnist for Psychology Today, contends that our image of a good business leader has become dysfunctional. He even goes so far as to say there’s an increase in psychopaths in the business leadership class.
“If you take away the violent tendencies that are the most disturbing hallmark of the psychopath, I find many of the other symptoms in the boardroom today,” he says. “The extreme narcissism, the charm, the aggressiveness, the lack of conscience. These are seen as valued traits in a leader today.”
The need to be in the limelight, for celebrity status, to take credit for the work of others, to blame others when things go wrong – these personality traits are typical of psychopaths, Williams adds.
“When companies recruit leaders, they tend to value highly people who are ruthless, who can make tough decisions – that sometimes can be hurtful to thousands of people – and not lose any sleep over it.”
Pasmore takes a similar stance. “Poor leaders develop a culture of arrogance and protection. They think they can do no wrong, and they hire yes men who think the way they do. They believe they were hired because they had all the answers,” he says. “That belief causes most of the problems we see in organisational performance.”