“Charisma is the result of effective leadership, not the other way around.” — Warren Bennis and Burt Nanus
One of the most frequent complaints I hear from mid-managers is the lack of real “engagement” with the senior team. Most of the time is spent in meetings and other business rituals where little real connection or engagement takes place. By “engagemenet” I mean the authentic dialogue and emotional connection between two or more participants. You can read a lot about “employee engagement” but almost nothing about “senior management engagement”. I’ve always believed ideas flow better on a two way street!
Besides the common excuse of lack of time, there seems to be two other significant contributing factors to lack of leadership engagement. First, engaged leadership is very hard work and with all the other time demands on executives, real engagement can easily lose out.
Second is the modern day obsession we have with the leader as celebrity and the cult of “executive stardom”. One of the by-products of the focus on charisma and personality as a major determinant of leadership is that people allow and even expect their leaders to be slightly removed from the “work of the organization” and respond to ideas from their leaders as infallible pronouncements. In companies where the cult of leadership is strong, few managers speak up or challenge ideas that come from above.
For the past several decades we have seen the era of “superstar leadership” and “charismatic unaccountability” where position, title, obscene compensation and attendance at Davos have been substituted for engaged and effective leadership. And the results were evident during the recent global financial meltdown. It is my belief that many of these super-CEOs were the beneficiary of a booming economy (and easy access to money) as opposed to having brilliant leadership skills.
In his classic research on major corporate disasters and the leaders responsible for them, Sydney Finkelstein, professor and author of Why Smart Executives Fail cites the “superstar syndrome” and “ineffective leadership practices” as being at the heart of many spectacular corporate failures.
By focusing too much on the CEO, or other superstar executives as the hero “with all the answers”, robust leadership processes that can surface valuable information and engage all the members of the leadership team in candid debate tend to take a back seat. Thus the individual superstar who helped orchestrate a spectacular business success several years ago can just as easily lead the company into irrecoverable disaster. This culture of worshiping charismatic leaders tends to over inflate the importance of the individual at the expense of full engagement by the senior team and masks the critical importance of leadership processes on business success.
No one of us is as smart as all of us.
Tight Lines . . .