How Damage Is Being Done To Young Leaders

I become very upset when businesses and leaders abuse their power and authority. The sustained use of an authoritarian, domineering, or controlling leadership style is clearly not a proper leadership approach; it harms people, performance and ultimately customers. Conversely, the opposite is also true. Organizations and leaders can be too people oriented, too worried about placating and condoning, and too concerned with employee happiness over results. The same results occur: it harms people, performance and customers.

Today there is a trend advocating a stronger emphasis on people leadership. While a strong focus on people is critical for success, when the emphasis on people becomes so predominant that it overwhelms a concern for productivity, the pendulum has swung too far. Consider these recent themes:

1. More employees value good communication skills in managers than strong leadership.
“A survey of 2,500 UK workers reveals 21% see communication as the most important factor when thinking about the “ideal manager”, making it the most valued trait. This is followed by strong leadership (19%) and fairness (14%). Communication is more valued than strong leadership”, according to the report.
Communication is necessary and critical but when communication becomes more important than leadership, we will no longer need leaders, just a public relations firm.

2. Followers choose leaders
“Full-time employees, particularly millennials, expect greater choice. In a Facebook/Twitter world, in which leadership is measured by followership (my emphasis), the idea that a company can dictate who you should follow is foreign”. “Everything You Need To Know About How the Workplace Is Evolving” By Kaihan Krippendorff

This attitude brings up the whole troublesome attitude that a leader is great as long as he or she does what others think they should. Take an unpopular position and the leader is one of those “bad bosses” whose traits are paraded daily on LinkedIn. Do what I want and you are a great visionary leader. Thus, it appears the success of a leader is to be measured not by how well they lead but by how well employees feel their wishes are fulfilled.


3. Kinder, gentler leadership leads to happy employees and high productivity
Studies of millennials have found that:

• 72% would like to be their own boss.
• But if they do have to work for a boss, 79% of them would want that boss to serve more as a coach or mentor.
• 88% prefer a collaborative work-culture rather than a competitive one.
(Intelligence Group study reported in “What Millennials Want in the Workplace (And Why You Should Start Giving It to Them)” by Rob Asghar.

The expectation of the millennial generation who have been “peerented” in their adolescence is that their manager must be a loving, nurturing leader who only provides positive feedback.
Additionally, happiness is viewed as the key to a successful organization. Organizations will be extremely successful if they will make their sole purpose to keep their employees happy. For example, Martin Murphy writes in “Boost Profits with Happiness Management”,

“Happy people experience more success, prosperity and wellbeing at work. Learning to manage happiness levels at work will lead to increases in sustainable success.
Recent research from Warwick University has concluded that “happiness can increase productivity by a staggering 12%. Increasing the team’s mental and emotional adaptability, no matter what the circumstances, will improve the bottom line.”

The message is clear – want higher productivity (and who could turn down a 12% bump)? Make your employees happy.

4. If I don’t like my job (or you), I’m out of here
Of more than one million employed U.S. workers the number one reason people leave a job is because of a bad boss or supervisor (Gallup).
The expectation is that the work place (and the supervisor) should fulfill employees’ needs.

• No meaning in your life? Your organization can fill the missing meaning gap in our life!
• No loving caring authority in your life. Your organization can provide a loving caring leader!
• Lack of development of your values from your church, family or school. The organization will provide values worth living for!

Mark Ragan writes in his post, Are you doing what you love? If not, then quit!, “As the CEO …I have hired and fired employees over the past 23 years. Inevitably, the people I’ve had to fire were miserable. They really wanted to be actors or musicians, stand up comics, novelists, magazine writers — or even politicians. But because someone told them their goals were impossible to reach, they settled for a job with me”. He concludes with the story of a forester who is doing what he loves for $15,000 a year, “One thing I learned about (him) that day is that he knows how to follow his bliss”.
The message? If your organization or leader does not fulfill your every need, then find a better place to work. Work should be self-fulfilling and it is the leader’s job to insure that happens. If not, quit.

5. Everyone can be a leader

“To quote Nike, “If you consume oxygen you are an athlete”. Everyone on the planet who has a pulse today can show leadership. Because leadership has nothing to do with your job description, leadership is not about the office you are in. …Leadership is about using the authentic power within you. (

The “everyone can be a leader” philosophy rests on the fact that there is nothing special about leadership. John Maxwell popularized this fallacy with the statement that “leadership is simply influence.” Since everyone influences someone else at some time, everyone is a leader. This belief is one of the major factors why the wrong people are being placed in leadership positions. Everyone deserves a chance to lead!

But if everyone is a leader, why are organizations fearful that their leadership talent is insufficient? A 2014 PricewaterhouseCoopers survey of CEOs reported that 63% were concerned about the future availability of key skills at all levels. Egon Zehnder found that 22% view their leadership pipelines as promising and only a scant 19% consider it easy to attract the best talent.

It is also clear that role models and mentors of young leaders are not being developed. HR Magazine (2012) reported that 80% of business leaders thought their organizations insufficiently invested in developing middle management leadership skills. In a recent Right Management survey of talent management trends, 2,000 business leaders and HR professionals were asked to assess the middle level bench strength of their organizations. Over 80% described it as being only “adequate” or “weak.” A scant 17% felt their middle management had “robust” strengths – a rating that fell to 9% in the Americas. Furthermore, a 2010 study by Mannaz, suggested that, not only are “middle managers under-represented on formal training courses, many of them are consciously avoiding development. The reason seems to be a form of ‘training fatigue’ – a perception that conventional training programs rarely serve their particular needs.”

If everyone can be a leader, why is there such a dearth of leadership talent?


6. You’re not the boss of me

A significant problem leadership faces is that our society is not developing followers. Learning to be under the authority of another person is critical to being able to use authority wisely as a leader. As the President and CEO of ARVis Institute, Terina Allen, noted, “when I think about those who devalue followership and fail to make its connection to leadership, I get visions of impending flawed leadership running through my head and the unnecessary suffering and agony of those who will be tasked with trying to follow them.”

If everyone can be a leader then their first obligation is to learn the skills of being a follower. Unfortunately, learning to be under the authority of another is a lesson seldom taught outside the military. Instead young people are placed in leadership training without the pre-requisite foundation for success.

7. The “siloing” of leadership skills
If you read LinkedIn posts you would be led to believe that leadership is comprised of a series of individual skills, any of which might be the missing ingredient of great leadership (depending on the author’s purpose). This emphasis to slice leadership skills finer and finer works great for authors trying to make themselves a name but it is detrimental to the young leader because it is contrary to the way leadership really functions. Great leadership requires a combination of skills working together to create positive results. For example, communication does not exist in a vacuum. Rather communication occurs during goal setting and during coaching, feedback, recognition and yes, even discipline. Without great communication, none of these functions will be done well. By siloing critical leadership skills as separate entities unlinked to anything else, we inhibit young leaders from developing the true art of applying a combination of leadership skills.


The pendulum is swinging too far
Leadership requires the integration of two, often seemingly contradictory, demands. It is not the “or” but the “and” that is required for a great leader. For example leaders must simultaneously optimize:

• Current and future focus
• Stability and change
• Effectiveness and efficiency
• Satisfaction over results and dissatisfaction that we can do better
• People and productivity

If either of the factors in a pair becomes predominant over the other, there will be negative consequences. For example, a predominant focus on current results will cause an organization to fail to position itself properly for long-term success.

This is especially true of people and productivity. The integration of these two areas is essential for all great leaders. The sub-optimization of one dimension to the other creates the bad leadership we all fear. (See my post on Shoddy Workmanship:Why 90% of Leaders Are Average Or Worse-Part 1).

Today the pendulum is swinging too far. We are teaching young leaders that a leader’s major job is to make people happy. The young leader should listen to the group and do what they want. What is being ignored is an equally strong emphasis on results and productivity. This oversight is to the leader’s detriment.

True satisfaction and meaning on the job will never be created unless people are actively involved and participating in meaningful work that creates significant results. For example the important concept of engagement – the intertwining the employees’ heart and mind with significant business issues – is being watered down to focus on employee happiness and satisfaction: another overemphasis of the people side of leadership.

The consequences
While many leadership authors may argue that they intend for the concern for productivity to be equally as important as the concern for people, the message is not being clearly articulated. The result is that a message is being delivered to young leaders to make their people happy and meet their desires and interests. When one does, great productivity and leadership magically appear. Nothing could be further from the truth.

We appear to be moving to the democratization of the workplace. As David Hassell wrote in his article, “Why Management Is Out Of Control: Employee 2.0”,
“We are now on the cusp of a new revolution — something we’re dubbing: Employee Rights 2.0.”Labor” is breaking free of traditional management structures to experience unprecedented autonomy. Today’s knowledge workers demand freedom from micromanagement and the punch-clock.”

Coupled with the well documented deterioration of the quality produced by our educational system, “unprecedented autonomy” can be catastrophic. Organizations are already seeing the lack of critical thinking skills in college graduates. Groups of workers with average or less thinking skills managed by people who simply want to please them is a recipe for mediocrity (if not disaster) at best. Like the frog in boiling water, many organizations will fail to notice the steady decline of performance until it is too late.

The lesson
We need a message of strength in leadership now more than ever before.
Strong leaders will have a high concern for people but never at the expense of results. The two must be integrated in everything the leader does. The leader’s true strength comes from requiring and expecting high results but then doing everything within his or her power to help employees achieve those high expectations.

If this is not the core philosophy of leadership, we are doomed to develop a generation of leaders that are either autocrats or wussies. And much of their failure will be our responsibility for failing to present a picture of how great leaders simultaneously optimize people and productivity.

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