5 reasons why leadership is in crisis
November 13, 2018
‘A startling 86% of respondents to the Survey on the Global Agenda agree that we have a leadership crisis in the world today.’ according to the World Economic Forum in 2015.
There is an alarmingly weak correspondence between power and competency. Those in power are not necessarily up to the job of discharging their responsibilities to the benefit of those they lead.
Here are five of the primary reasons why:
Obsession with Outcomes
Outcomes are the last link in the chain of cause and effect. The focus of leadership needs to be at the causal end of that chain. Let’s consider an analogy:
To grow a pumpkin you need four elements – earth, air, fire (warmth) and water – and a seed. During its development, your attention is not on the pumpkin, it’s on the four elements that make growth possible – the environment.
Just like the pumpkin, you have absolutely no idea exactly how a business enterprise will turn out in terms of its form, size and impact. These are not predictable. The only thing you can control are the parameters of its environment.
So when leaders fixate on outcomes such as share price and profit, they do so to the detriment of the causal factors that will determine the quality of those outcomes. When Tesco overstated its profits by £250m in 2014, it lost £2bn of its share value as a result.
The Machine Metaphor
Many leaders instinctively think of their organisations as a ‘well-oiled machine’. According to Warwick University’s Centre for LifeLong Learning it is ‘By far the most common metaphor used to think about organisations…’
Yet both the environment in which organisations operate (the economy) and the fundamental building blocks of organisations (people) are VUCA: volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. The notion, common to many organisations, that even a highly developed and sophisticated algorithmic machine can thrive, when everything in and around it is the antithesis of order and predictability, is clearly absurd.
Leaders need to nurture a non-linear, non-deterministic dimension to their organisations that can respond to the realities of the complex systems that are intrinsic and extrinsic to them.
Ego, Vanity and Arrogance
Ego can be considered as the identification of the ‘I’ with an idea; ‘I am successful’, for example. The nature of our egos is determined by the particular ideas we identify with and the strength of the identification.
The energy invested in the egos of some leaders can be very much more intense than the general population. When that is the case, the individual can exhibit very low levels of empathy and compassion accompanied by more extreme displays of arrogance and vanity.
Research by New York-based psychologist Paul Babiak has suggested up to 4% of business leaders in the US could be psychopaths.
When your identity is invested in knowing what you are talking about – being successful, being the expert and being right – any challenge generates an existential crisis. Your very being is threatened, triggering the fight response characteristic of some leaders.
Dan Cable of the London Business School cites how the humble leader gets the best out of organisations.
A Deficiency of Self-Awareness
Toegel and Barsoux, in How To Become a Better Leader suggest self-awareness is the key. Yet they miss a huge trick in limiting the concept to identifying personal idiosyncrasies.
Self-awareness needs to encompass so much more, bringing the leader to the point of being aware, and present to, their inner dynamics – the beliefs, mindsets, attitudes, feelings and emotions – that are conditioning their response to the world from moment to moment. Only then can they make intelligent responses rather than suffer conditioned reactions.
How can you pretend to lead others without understanding them first, and, by implication, yourself?
One of the most effective ways of developing self-awareness, endorsed by leaders such as Bill George, Jack Dorsey, Ray Dalio and Bob Shapiro, is meditation, which need have no religious or spiritual context and is effective with as little as 10 minutes daily.
Achievement, however grand, doesn’t always bring the fulfilment that we expect from it. Olympian Victoria Pendleton says: ‘People think it’s hard when you lose, but it’s almost easier to come second because you have something to aim for when you finish. When you win, you suddenly feel lost.’
At work we associate activity with success – the more we do, the more we achieve. Yet some businesses are discovering that by banning emails or restricting meetings, less means more.
The myth that the more time we spend working, the more we get done, still dominates organisational culture. But when we consider just how abundant the workplace is – just how much we will never get to finish, drawing the line between work and rest becomes critical.
When we strike the right work/rest balance, the activity we take on becomes intrinsically more measured, more meaningful and more fulfilling. It also leads to better mental and physical health.
The Australian National University is unequivocal that working anything over 39 hours a week is a risk to wellbeing.
In summary, leadership is in crisis because of 5 simple mistakes too many of our leaders make:
- They focus on outcomes instead of causes
- They believe organisations to be machines
- They fail to see beyond their egos
- They lack self-awareness
- They venerate activity
By Chris Pearse