This is a guest post by colleague, Russ Brooks on Bad Leaders. Although what prompted him to write this piece was an article on presidential hopeful Amy Klobuchar, bad leadership is not restricted to politics. Indeed, we see signs of it everywhere. Russ and I have collaborated on array of projects over the years. Most recently we have focussed on what we brand as Adaptable Leadership, a certain antidote to Bad Leadership. I am sure you will find Russ’s contribution a good read. AJT
A highly critical article about U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar appeared recently in the New York Times (“How Amy Klobuchar Treats Her Staff”, NYT Feb 22, 2019). While Senator Klobuchar has come under significant criticism for her behavior, I am reminded that political skills and leadership skills are not the same. In fact, I believe close examination of men and women in elected office would reveal that many possess highly developed skills in the political realm. At the same time, their leadership skills are atrocious. Without wanting to appear cynical, I am reminded of the observation made by my first mentor early in my career. He noted that the defining characteristic of career politicians is the possession of a particular type of cunning.
The reality is that many men and women as they work through their professional and political careers find themselves as “accidental leaders”, unprepared to move a group forward in a sustainable way. Hence, the ill-prepared, and frustrated leaders find themselves resorting to volatile outbursts, criticizing and demeaning subordinates, throwing things, and exhibiting other unpredictable behaviors. If the Klobuchar article, which cites those kinds of acts, is accurate, the Senator is an excellent politician and an ineffective leader.
My confidence in the veracity of the article is increased by the Senator’s own words in the article. She said, “Am I a tough boss sometimes? Yes. Have I pushed people too hard? Yes”. These are classic deflections. They rank right up there with the common excuses of the weak and ineffective leaders. Perhaps you have heard one or more of the following:
• That’s just the way I am. You will get used to it
• I demand even more of myself than I do of my staff
• I’m having a bad day
• We’re all in this together. Now get to work
• I wouldn’t have to be this way if you would do your job
All the above and the many variations of those statements are excuses for poor leadership. It is no coincidence that they are like the statements of the common bully and the abusive party in a relationship.
My associate, Dr. Arnold Tilden, and I have been involved in helping individuals and organizations with leadership training that works. He has developed a very effective program called Adaptable Leadership.
The central premise of Adaptable Leadership is that extrinsic rewards like raises and bonuses have proven limitations when it comes to driving performance to the highest level. Intrinsic rewards provided through the leadership relationship are essential in shaping performance. Further, different team members vary in what they need interpersonally.
Adaptable Leader training begins with self-understanding and identifying what is most natural for the leader to provide to the team interpersonally. This is followed by simple to master tools that enable the leader to adapt to what each individual member needs. This adaptation is what truly results in effective leadership.
Because the training begins with self-understanding, it starts the leader on a path to understanding that leadership is about relationships. The take-away is that if an organization has primary goals of improving teamwork and developing leadership skills through-out the organization, it is fitting to focus on individuals and develop their leadership skills.
Several years ago the accounting and consulting firm Coopers and Lybrand published a book titled The Paradox Principles. One of the handful of principles that was identified reads: To build an enterprise (organization), focus on the individual.
In our twenty plus years of working together, Arnie and I have seen countless examples of the importance of that principle. With our assistance in training and executive coaching sessions numerous individuals have elevated their leadership skills and the performance of their teams.
In sum, mature and effective leaders don’t demean others, throw things nor act like children. Senator Klobuchar and her colleagues in elected office have a lot to learn when it comes to leadership.