Friday, May 14, 2010

Coaching Lessons: Ineffective Leadership

Some of these lessons might feel familiar, but I want to review them here. How better to grasp a point than to consider it from different angles. Today, I want to comment on Mike Myatt's excellent post about the traits that define ineffective leadership. Link here.

To develop your own leadership capacity you should start by choosing the right leader to emulate. Often this takes considerable effort. Our natural tendency is to emulate our leaders, regardless of whether they are good or bad. When your leader is a bad role model, it takes more analysis, more intellectual effort, to resist the temptation to imitate him. Given how unnatural it feels to defy the impulse to imitate an ineffective leaders, some quantity of emotion will always be involved.

Deciding whether or not to emulate a leader requires a close analysis of inadequate or ineffective leadership. Myatt designates eight areas where leadership can become ineffective.

The first and most important is character. He makes the important point that many good qualities do not count in the assessment of character. Myatt declares that: "It doesn't matter how intelligent, affable, persuasive, or savvy a person is..." weak character will do him in.

I quoted that line because I find that it describes our current president very, very well. We could not hope for a more intelligent, affable, persuasive, and savvy president. And yet, we find ourselves with a thoroughly inadequate leader.

What do we mean by character? Character begins with keeping your word, doing what you say and saying what you will do. When a political candidate dissimulates his plans for the future in the interest of getting elected, when he is willing to say anything to anyone, then he has failed the test of character.

The second crucial aspect of character, as Myatt presents it, persuading people that he is making decisions based on what is best for his country or his company. A leader with character gives everyone confidence that his interests are identical to theirs.

If it appears that the leader is acting to aggrandize or enrich himself at the expense of his company or his country, he lacks character. If he seems more interested in his political viability than in doing what is best, he lacks character. If he is more loyal to his ideas than to the best interest of the group, he will be showing weak character. If his decisions seem consistently to favor one group over an other, then he will divide his staff or his constituency.

Myatt's second point reflects what John Baldoni called "earned authority." (My comments here.) In Myatt's words: "Someone who has consistently experienced success in leadership roles has a much better chance of success than someone who has not.... unproven leaders come with a high risk premium."

No company would ever be so foolish to choose a leader who had not proven himself in other leadership roles. The marketplace would exact a serious penalty for such dereliction.

And yet, our nation just elected a president who had never held a leadership position at all.

Next, Myatt posits that a good leader must have good communication skills. You might be thinking that, if Obama is good at anything, he is good at communication.

Let's qualify it and say that Obama is great at a certain kind of communication. He offers us soul-stirring and eloquent pronouncements, most of which, on close examination, are empty platitudes. Obama's oratorical style seems perfectly fitted to the pulpit, but not to an executive. Communicating to your parishioners, in the name of God, is not the same as communicating to your fellow citizens or your constituents.

Leadership is not about offering a religious conversion experience. It is not about clever quips and sound bites; and it is certainly not about offhand dismissals of your opponent's point of view.

Such is Obama's communication style. It worked wonders during the campaign, but, as of now, it has not been wearing well. Obama, as is his wont, is blaming it on the media and Steve Jobs.

One sign of a leader's character is that he does not indulge in the narcissistic exercise of blaming his own failures on forces outside of his control.

For a leader, communication means being sure that everyone knows exactly where you stand on the issues. It also means, as Myatt says, that you can demonstrate that you respect everyone's point of view. Anyone who thinks that leadership is about pushing people around, forcing them to do what you think is best for them, is not going to lead effectively.

This dovetails with another important point. Myatt says that leaders need to be flexible and to adapt. By that he means that leadership is not about embodying a persona, but about doing what is needed to achieve a goal.

A leader must be good to his word. He will fail if he maintains the same persona in any and all circumstances.

Sometimes your people will need a kick in the pants. Sometimes they will need empathy and consolation. A good leader does what it takes to motivate his team. An ineffective leader does what it takes to make him feel like a leader.

Myatt's final point has an interesting resonance: "Leaders not attuned to the needs of the market will fail. As the old saying goes, if you're not taking care of customers, someone else will be more than happy to."

Company leaders recognize that they are dealing with a competitive marketplace. Whether that marketplace contains consumers or clients, these have a free choice, to buy your product or to buy someone else's.

In politics the marketplace is the ballot box. It is no surprise that Obama's ineffective leadership has dissipated the better part of the good will he enjoyed in January, 2009. New Jersey, Virginia, and Massachusetts election results have shown a severe erosion of the Democratic party's support.

Strangely enough, Obama has acted as though it did not happen, as though the verdict of the ballot box and the job market need not concern him.

You have to wonder how much complacency is built into the investor psyche today because investors are taking their cues from Obama's attitude. After all, we all tend to imitate our leaders, whether we like them or not, and whether we know it or not. And we are far more likely to understand our reality by taking a cue from Obama's chronic insouciance than from the anger of the Tea Party.

1 comment:

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