What do we need from our Leaders?

Posted: July 16, 2013 by Matthew Hanwell in Leadership, Organization, People

Contradictions in Corporate Leadership Practices – guest post by Tojo Eapen

Umpteen numbers of articles continue to be written about leadership and leadership development.  In recent years, there has been noticeable focus on concepts like emotional intelligence, authenticity, mindfulness, flat, network-centric organizations and virtuous teaching cycles.  Even some of the most famous corporate leaders like Jack Welch and Tim Brown recently emphasized that leadership success is all about growing others.1,2
Dr. Noel Tichy from the University of Michigan wrote in ‘The Cycle of Leadership’ that if you look at the world’s best leaders, you’ll see that they are also the world’s best teachers, because teaching is at the heart of leadership.3 Recent findings in cognitive neuroscience specify that much of our motivation driving social behavior is governed by an overarching organizing principle of minimizing threat and maximizing reward.  The SCARF model from David Rock summarized a framework that captured the common factors that can activate a reward or threat response in social situations.4 Management gurus like Gary Hamel have been instigating a management revolution to transform traditional leadership and management practices, and traditional organization structures that demand too much of too few and not enough of everyone else.5  Even in traditional cultures like China, changing leadership skills and development are being actively thought about and redesigned to meet the challenges of a constantly changing world.6

There are multiple exhortations to rethink and redefine the work of leadership.  The ‘Hackathon’ effort from the Management Innovation Exchange’s (MIX) is a great example of collaborative approach.7  

In spite of all of these advances and advanced thinking, from various conversations with friends and colleagues around the world, it seems like there is still a major gap in quality of leaders and practical leadership practices in organizations.  Studies seem to support that impression.  Fewer than one in five people trust business or government leaders to tell the truth when confronted with a difficult issue, according to a yearly “trust barometer” survey by the giant public relations firm Edelman.  Gallup found that over a twelve-year period between 2000 and 2012, the percentage of engaged employees in the workforce shifted between 26% and 30%.8

Leadership is indeed a complex responsibility but something fundamentally seems to be out of place. 

Few fundamental topics still exist in organizations that need attention and transformation: 

         ‘Soft’ (skills) is still not given sufficient credit in many corporate environments.  This is one of the most misleading aspects of leadership that many leaders have to shift their sometimes unaware bias. To make matters worse, many leaders hire people similar to them; build comfort zones reinforcing the existing culture and related behaviors.

         Beyond a certain level of responsibility, organizations don’t emphasize promoting for leadership skills, rather than individual smartness, technical skills or IQ. Technical career paths could help ensure that individuals are not pressured to take roles for the wrong reasons.

         Individuals get promoted and hired for technical skills and that trend continues for years before it becomes too difficult to change behaviors. Strong coaching or mentoring support especially during the first two or three leadership transitions can go a long way in building a solid base for self-awareness and behavior change.

         Like it or not, enormous amount of power is still vested in leadership roles.  Many smart leaders get carried away with their leadership roles and stop being truly receptive to other ideas and thinking, which leads to mediocrity unrecognizable by the individuals themselves but visible to others.  The power equation and dynamics makes it even more difficult for open feedback to be shared.  How can we help leaders stay grounded and open?

         There should be consequences for bad leadership behaviors.  Prof. Bob Sutton from Stanford University defines ‘work jerks’ as people who pick on those beneath them and leave others feeling belittled and sapped of energy.9 People should know that is not efficient and it’s going to cost them. More awareness is needed on the amount of direct and indirect damage that ‘work jerks’ can inflict.  Unfortunately, many senior leaders in the business world are not held accountable for building sustainable organizations for the long run.10  A recent Forbes article also indicated that psychopathic behavior in senior leadership may be more prevalent than we think.11

Leading diverse groups of individuals from different generations and backgrounds can be very challenging.  Add to this, legacy organizational cultures steeped in old management styles and ways of working results in huge amounts of frustration and disengagement.  Leaders impact organizational behaviors and influence culture strongly through their individual day to day behaviors and actions.  People in the organization watch them closely and replicate.

Each one of us can be an influencing force in our own environments by being proponents and practitioners of new thinking.  We need a critical mass of believers to transform leadership practices in organizations. 


It would be great to hear your views and inputs on this topic.   

Do you agree that there is need for leadership practices to evolve?

What do we require from leaders in today’s world?

What needs to change?

Do we have examples of outliers and thinking worth sharing and adopting?

Tojo Eapen













10 http://www.gsb.stanford.edu/cldr/research/surveys/performance.html


  1. WebNode says:

    Great information about leadership.

  2. goxone1 says:

    Leaders in any business always need to strive to find balance between what is best for the continued success of the business, best for it’s customers/clients, and best for the employees. Some may question the order saying employee needs have to come first, or customer needs. But like a good parent, if the company does not put it’s health first there will be no caring for customers or employees.

  3. Sandor says:

    Good point about teaching being at the heart of leadership. I believe the best teaching is done by example.

  4. This is the things about being in a leadership role. If you manage a team know that they are watching you more closely than you are watching them. You absolutely have to lead by example, even if it is subtle. Don’t let change throw you or it will throw youe team. The economies of the last decade have forced many changes upon us and as leaders we have to manage through that change through open communication. You can’t over communicate change. The ability to manage change should be one of the most highly valued attributes of any leader and should be recognized more by corporate culture.

  5. Scott Allen says:

    I’ve seen so many examples of all five of those first-hand. The thing is, particularly regarding the first three, I think this is less of an issue of individual leadership skills and more a systemic issue regarding the way companies structure their organizations around technical issues. Most simply don’t provide an adequate advancement path for technical people without going into management.

    IBM has long been an exception to this. Another shining example is Rational Software, famous for hiring the “holy trinity” of software development geniuses: Booch, Rumbaugh and Jacobson.

    The thing is, we need to think this way even in smaller companies, and in non-technical companies. An IT department needs a chief administrator, as well as a chief technologist. Beyond a certain size company, those probably aren’t the same person, and the technologist needs to be paid as well as the administrator.

  6. George Sevah says:

    I believe that there is need for leadership practices to evolve…the things we require is some guidence through are work from a very good teacher..who can also be patient. i think leadership is a major subject to discuss here. As being the leader leadership is taught to you in many ways but there are many other things that create your leadership abilities and make them better as time goes by! Don’t forget you have to be the leader of some or many people, make people trust you and follow you..that’s the only way you are going to succeed in being the leader!

  7. Inspirational post. thanks a lot dear Tim….. i do not speak english very well but i think that we need trustworthy leaders, and for example, actually in my country there is no one from every party which is ….. hope new generation will come up very soon….

  8. This is a great article. So much truth. Especially in corporate america today, a lot of these leaders hire and promote similar people, whats comfortable. Surround themselves with “yes-men” instead of individuals who might challenge, to the benefit of the company.

  9. dougwo says:

    Frankly, I think leaders are too motivated by bonuses and profits. They are so focused on satisfying stock holders they often forget about the people that make it happen. They worry about their own ego instead of the good of the overall company

  10. Jason Wagner says:

    Wow, great questions to bring up ! Thanks for the stimulating read!

  11. There are many styles of leadership, in the main, good leaders are blessed with a large chunk of common sense, compassion, and honesty; however too many in the lumpen masses prefer to listen to those promising all things to all men and the chance of a fast buck.

    I don’t really know what the solution is – in the main due to the fact that I don’t trust big government!

    Great article though!

  12. Great article bud! Be good to see our leaders do what they say they’re gonna do aye, ‘what you do speaks so loudly that what you say I cannot hear’

  13. Marcus says:

    I really enjoyed reading this article, and I’ll take a minute to explore some of the questions raised by the author Tojo Eapen.

    1. Do you agree that there is need for leadership practices to evolve?

    I agree that leadership practices need to evolve, but I believe that the fundamental principles of leadership are universal and timeless. All leaders, regardless of the specific society or era to which they belong, must possess the ability to bring people together, communicate their vision, motivate others, delegate effectively, and resolve conflicts. Specific leadership practices and tools, however, may evolve with changing trends and technology.

    2. What do we require from leaders in today’s world?

    In addition to the skills and abilities mentioned above, I think today’s leaders, more than ever before, need to be able to adapt to constant and turbulent change. Society has always been dynamic and changing, but the pace of technological, social and economic change has accelerated in today’s world, requiring leaders to be more forward-looking and adapt to changing conditions and parameters.

  14. tulleuchen says:

    “There should be consequences for bad leadership behavior” boy is that ever the truth. Seems like leaders instead of being punished, either go from company to company and/or just retired with more money.

  15. David says:

    My company has invested in my leadership, and I see the value that has resulted from this investment. I made my way to that opportunity through independent contribution. Companies that do this can sometimes find ways to grow potential leaders.

  16. I am a firm believer that the soft skills are what make a true leader a great one!

  17. […] What do we need from our Leaders?. […]

  18. Thanks much for all your comments, responses and reblogs!

    @goxone1 Interesting point about balance. It might also mean having a consistent ‘value’ system and purpose that drives consistent behaviors internally or externally – even more important and relevant in tough environments.

    @salesgamechanger thank you for sharing your thoughts and importance of ability to manage change where things seem to shift constantly.

    @George Sevah Great points, very often missed in organizations.

    @manliomannozzi If we wait and hope, it could be long. What we can do is to start influencing our own small world, networks and change may starts from there?

    @DJRawls It seems to exist globally and may be a natural human bias. We all may use a similar preference or approach in our daily lives in whom we talk & listen to, buy services from etc. However, the important question for a leader is how can we be aware of this bias and willing to change?

    @dougwo Agree.. I also think the system in general promotes individuals who are driven by that and the cirlce or chain of hiring similar people ensures clones (similar behaviors). How can that be changed?. Is this reflective of the society and its needs? Probably it starts with the shareholders demanding a different scorecard?

    @anguswordpress Thank you.
    Research done by Jim Kouzes & Barry Posner over many years found that the main leadership traits people look for in leaders are Honesty, Forward Looking, Inspiring, Competent. Honesty was number one.

    @Marcus Thank you! Appreciate the detailed responses. On your first comment and related to reference to Kouzes & Posner research on leadership traits over the years, they also mention that they haven’t seen major shifts in results over the years.

    @tulleuchen That is really interesting and begs the question why does it still happen? In today’s world of interconnectedness and social media, it should be easier to avoid?

    @David Great to hear. Would you be able to share the investment you found to be most valuable, and can be used in growing potential leaders effectively?

    Apologies in case I missed something…

  19. […] various perspectives.  I have also spent quite a bit of time reflecting and learning from various angles, while observing, experiencing and working with leaders on practical aspects.I got an opportunity […]

  20. […] various perspectives.  I have also spent quite a bit of time reflecting and learning from various angles, while observing, experiencing and working with leaders on practical aspects.I got an opportunity […]

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