Do you talk about your boss at the dinner table? Most people do. Do you talk about political figures around the dinner table? Most people do.
Conversations about trust, inspiration, likeability, honor and deceit are covered nightly, all over the world at the dinner table. Are these people setting an example we want our children to see?
No matter who you follow, whether they are sports figures, government leaders, or business leaders, the talk goes on.
Our narrative about leaders or the boss creates an emotional connection or an emotional distance. This depends upon our expectations of what a leader should be. Everyone reports to someone.
Whether you or the leaders you admire report to a person or a group of regulators or a Board, you are accountable.
A Bob Dylan song says it well:
“You may be an ambassador to England or France,
You may like to gamble, you might like to dance,
You may be the heavyweight champion of the world,
You may be a socialite with a long string of pearls.
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody…”
Leaders We Want to Follow (or not)
Think about the leaders where you work and those you hear about.
These individuals probably range from leaders you would call great to those you call weak. And we can’t forget to mention toxic leaders, the ones who simply brighten up a room by walking out of it!
Great leaders are the ones that we flock to. These are leaders who set tangible goals and communicate the vision. And they recommunicate the vision, and they recommunicate the vision and everyone stays on the same page.
Great leaders evaporate silos, influence everyone to contribute, and align the company so each person, department or team knows how they fit into the initiative. They tell you what good looks like, who will measure good and follow up often to keep the momentum going.
We trust theses leaders. They are predictable, stable, and make their expectations known.
They value our opinion. These leaders are likely the ones who reach deep into us and bring out our best. They take time to learn the triggers that activate our strengths. They care about our long-term success, because they ask about our aspirations and what we need to stay at our best.
They know our values. They listen. They promote situations where employees collectively strive to come up with new ways to astonish both internal and external customers.
Their greatness is evident and although they take big risks and make big mistakes, they remain teachable and unjaded. Their followers are unswervingly loyal. A spirit of cooperation lights the path of successful outcomes that transcends across generations.
Theses may not be easy people to work with or for. In their passion for excellence, they might be impatient, aggressively blunt and critical. On the other hand, you know where you stand so you are willing go the distance with them. Sometimes great leaders influence the entire world. Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Mother Theresa, Henry Ford and more recently Steve Jobs.
These are leaders with durable leadership characteristics who seize the moment, who not only see situations clearly, but also have a vision of the future and are willing to breathe life into that vision.
Spineless and Absent Leaders
Spineless leaders look weak to their constituencies’. Like a candle in the wind, they tilt to the whims of the current zeitgeist. They have the authority to make things happen but the obvious answers whiz right past them.
The spineless leader often hides behind email, and in his or her attempts to not rock the boat, they are oblivious to signals that would help them seize the moment and push the needle forward. Esprit de corps means little to them. After all, they stay away from conflict, collaboration and people, unless it’s someone important to them.
Like the landlord from hell, you can’t get them to fix bad situation, and they have no empathy for what you need to have done before you can go forward. They are absent, from decisions, tough choices and other’s needs. They aren’t bad people, just absent or missing in action. They either don’t think through consequences of their actions or they cave in with no thought to their impact on people.
When you hear and old employee say to a new hire, “They are okay; I’m glad they leave me alone.” You probably have a spineless leader. The spineless aren’t interested in creating unity or a collective vision to build anything great. The outcomes of loyal followers won’t be evident because the followers will be just like they are. Spineless.
These men and women often derail because the only thing they can perfectly produce, is turnover.
Toxic leaders love power and if you cross them, it’s your head on the end a spear. They are power lovers who can bring down an organization or a country and are only predictable for their negative qualities. They usually have a group of cronies who keep them in power. The spotlight is their friend.
The key red flags for toxic leaders is how they engender fear instead of hope, how quickly they blame others instead of taking responsibility, how they will take advantage of others and alienate a group of people who don’t have as much power as they do.
A leader on this spectrum will have followers, but the question should be posed, for how long?
Toxic leaders do more harm than good to followers, they:
• Refuse to look at their part in any initiative or failure
• Violate basic human rights of their own supporters
• Feed illusions to their followers that play on the followers’ fears and desperation
• Mislead followers with lies
• Stifle criticism of themselves
• Engage in unethical, illegal, and/or criminal acts
• Cling to power
• Scapegoat others
• Ignore or promote incompetence, cronyism, and corruption
*Lipman-Bluman, J. 2005, The allure of toxic leaders
When reflecting across decades, we’ve seen several dictators who were prime examples of toxic leaders killed at the hands of former followers. They were narcissistic, abusive, cruel, corrupt, and practiced nepotism as a prevalent act.
Ironically, these leaders can mobilize significantly large groups of passionate followers—large enough to form armies that can overrun cities and countries. Nevertheless, the extreme negative nature of a toxic leader at work will eventually lead to their downfall. They make too many enemies and are unable to suppress ongoing dissent.
Work on yourself – include and develop others
Leadership isn’t a solo activity. Whether in business, sports, the military, or when leading a country, leaders need to include, engage and develop others to move their vision forward. They can’t execute alone. Michael Jordan says, “Earn your leadership every day,” and that means work on yourself and work inclusively with others.
Back to talk at the dinner table, consider this: Leaders who provide vigorous service and create results, are motivating, have a vision, and empower others. They set the tone to grab hold of the future and an inclusive agenda for progress. This is akin to having a runway for new ideas to take flight.
Overall we can’t control what someone says about us at their evening meal. What we can do, is make a decision that we will act in a way that will influence what people say about us at the dinner table.
Jean Kelley is a leadership development practitioner in Tulsa, Oklahoma, USA. Watch for the release of her new book, Discover the Leader in You, and check out her last book, Look Leap Lead.