Every day, all over the world, organizations, even good organizations, rid themselves of one afflicted leader, only to hire the next. Why is this?
In our new blog series on Leadership Afflictions, we will study the unique pressures of leadership and how to identify leadership afflictions at the highest levels of organizational life.
Organizations Are Only Human.
Every organization makes hiring and promotion mistakes and consequently has its fair share of afflicted leaders. Compounding this fact, many organizations pay only lip service to developing and evaluating leaders. Few tackle the issues that drive poor, often catastrophic leadership performance at top levels of the organization. So, it is not surprising we have an abundance of afflicted leaders afflicting organizations.
Leading is Never Easy.
The burdens of leadership are heavy, the problems many, the work demanding and the pressures often unbearable. A leader’s good intentions and pure motives may, at times, produce less than stellar results, perhaps outright failure.
Leaders Deserve the Benefit of the Doubt.
In light of these difficulties, as one leader put, it, “We all have feet of clay. Who among us can cast the first stone?” Aside from the mixed metaphor, this is good advice. When we choose to “believe the best” about the actions and decisions of a leader our confidence is typically rewarded—the leader was simply doing his or her best under difficult circumstances. So, let’s affirm that leadership failure is not necessarily a sign of leadership affliction.
However, we are justifiably disappointed, concerned, even alarmed, when, after giving a leader the benefit of the doubt, we discover he or she was operating out of a particular leadership affliction, or a suite of afflictions, that, if left unaddressed, threaten to diminish the capacity of the organization for sustained effectiveness. In these cases, excuses like, “I’m only human, no one is perfect,” ring hollow. We can believe the best about an afflicted leader all day long, only to come to the conclusion, often too late, that our loyalty and confidence have been tragically misplaced.
It’s Not Just About Top Leaders.
While this series explores top leader afflictions, these ailments are not reserved for those who make it to the top of the hierarchy. They can strike anyone at any level of the organization. Wherever power is available, accountability is weak and the leader is subject to the emotional and interpersonal dynamics faced by all of us, these afflictions can take root. Leadership affliction even strikes those we would not call “leaders” but who nevertheless wield power, at times considerable power, over their fellow human beings. Nineteenth century British statesman and political writer Edmund Burke observed, “Power is a very corrupting thing, especially low and jobbish power.” Jobbish power is the considerable power embedded in a relatively low status role. It is the power the retail clerk or passport control officer has over those in a long line, the power a gate agent has over passengers on an overbooked flight, or a waiter over hungry customers waiting for that next table. Top leader afflictions can strike anyone, anywhere on the organizational chart.
Looking Ahead. Afflicted leaders are indeed out there. They reside most everywhere, in organizations of all types—businesses, educational institutions, churches and non-profits. And they make their “afflicting presence” felt, imposing misery and distress on the organization and those unfortunate enough to reside in it. They stifle and control, dull initiative and turn otherwise responsible adults into passive spectators. They make us think we are stupid. They hoard power, cut corners and spin narratives. They put others down to lift themselves up. And more.
Chances are you have worked under or with an afflicted leader. And, perhaps your life has been adversely impacted—afflicted—by what afflicts them.
What are the six common leadership afflictions?
We will explore the personal dimensions of each affliction, identify how the affliction impacts the organization, provides an early warning system to prevent afflicted leaders from rising to power, and offer helpful advice to protect the organization and the individuals in it, if they do.
Next week we continue Part I of this series, an exploration of the personal dynamics at the root of all top leader afflictions—the unhappy intersection of the dark side of human nature manifested in emotional immaturity and destructive narcissism, fueled by access to organizational power and authority.