Leadership – don’t believe the liars

hubrisThe moment you are a senior executive, ‘liars’ surround you. Many of the people report you are ‘lying’ to one degree or another or another-whether unconsciously (as a transferential reaction) or consciously (for political reasons). In hierarchical situations, people have a tendency to tell those above them what they think the superiors want to hear. People who don’t acknowledge this are fooling themselves. Eventually, because candour flees authority, senior executives who aren’t careful will find themselves surrounded by sycophants. And in senior positions of organisations, hubris can become a contagious disease. Leaders become easily intoxicated by its sirens call.

Intoxication and intimidation will go hand-in-hand. At its core is an unholy alliance between disposition and position. Subordinates become intimidated by the power and symbols of the office, and leaders become the vessel of their projected fantasies. Large, impressive office suites, chauffeur driven cars, private jets, dynamic assistants, and secretaries, who fawn and cater for all, contribute to that awe that surrounds many leaders. Power leads to dependency reactions and even physical illness in others.

Many top executives don’t , however, the extent to which people project their fantasies on them; how much subordinates are inclined to tell them what they want to hear as a way of dealing with their own feelings of insecurity and helplessness; how willing subordinates are to attribute special qualities to others simply because the office they hold.

Even those who recognise these tendencies don’t necessarily do anything to counter them. They start to like it, however their failure to recognise what is happening to them can lead a company astray and destroy it. Guarding against hubris means creating an organisational culture where Frank feedback is encouraged; where leaders are prepared to ask themselves whether their own need for recognition is encouraging dishonesty in the ranks.

(Extract from conference papers – Cambridge Judge Business School (University of Cambridge) –  Author – Professor Manfred F R Kets de Vries)

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