It is good to be a leader because to be a leader is, ipso facto, to be good.
Leadership is not necessarily good, there is such a thing as bad leadership. To pretend bad leadership doesn’t exist is as misguided as a medical school claiming to teach health while ignoring disease.
There have been many articles written on what constitutes good leadership and there will be many more to come. I think one of the most interesting for me was in the Harvard Business Review; The Inspiring Leader: Unlocking the Secrets of How Extraordinary Leaders Motivate, written by Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman, who respectively are the CEO and President of Zenger/Folkman, a leadership development consultancy.
They imply that whilst it might be possible to hide poor leadership in good times, it is less possible when times are harder, and it is in hard times when the effect of poor leadership can be disastrous. This makes sense, when the pressure isn’t on people can get away with a certain amount of incompetence or bumbling, when the pressure is on there is no room for incompetence or bumbling.
Zenger and Folkman conducted a study over a period of about three years using intelligence from 360 degree feedback from 450 Fortune 500 executives and analysed the common characteristics of the 31 who were fired in the subsequent three year period. They also, through 360 degree feedback, identified the worst performing 10% of people from over 11,000 senior managers in leadership positions and compared the 10% of ineffective leaders with those fired within the three year period to come up with the10 most common leadership failings. Most ‘bad leaders’ had several of these characteristics, all had at least one.
The 10 common characteristics of ineffective leaders
· a lack of energy and enthusiasm
· an acceptance of their own mediocre performance
· a lack clear vision and direction
· demonstrate poor judgement
· don’t collaborate
· a lack of integrity
· resistance to new ideas
· do not learn from mistakes
· a lack interpersonal skills
· failure to develop others
Those that rated negatively in the above study had rated themselves significantly more positively. This isn’t surprising to me, we never hear people admitting that they don’t listen and we never hear managers saying ‘I lack vision’ or ‘I make a point of not collaborating with my colleagues’. This goes back to the first sentence; many might think that to hold the title of leader is good enough; it doesn’t actually matter whether they are any good or not.
Obvious? Yes. Suprising? No. So why do we put up with it? The difficultly is that many will be reticent to give true feedback for the knock on effect that it may have. An easy example is whistle blowing; how many people do not want to highlight something because they think it will open them up to criticism? Another is the annual Staff Survey; I have heard people express concern many times that their responses will be traced back to them by the bar code system.
All of us in leadership positions should constantly evaluate our performance; the line between being effective and ineffective is not that fine yet many cross it; some cross back, others do not. We should all ensure we have regular feedback (not only through the somewhat patchy appraisal system) and accept this feedback. This doesn’t mean making excuses for negative feedback, talking our way out of it, glossing over the bits we might not like etc, feedback from colleagues and teams is a good way of evaluating performance and impact. This might be hard and require quite a lot of courage but no one ever said being a leader wasn’t hard.
Leaders, even bad ones, have followers. Followers empower and enable bad leaders by following; even bad leaders offer some degree of certainty, safety, maintain some degree of order, are a known quantity and quite often are not demanding.
Bad leadership arises from the combination of both bad leaders and bad followers. Leaders can’t lead without followers. This starts touching on taking responsibility for relationships which I will talk about in the future. It’s going to be tough in the NHS going forwards; there should be no room for bad leadership and we all need to think about our part in that.
It is good to be a leader because to be a leader is, ipso facto, to be good. No! We have to ensure we are good and this requires constant hard work.