The Leadership Wolf

Posted: February 4, 2014 by Matthew Hanwell in Human Resources, Leadership, People

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Guest blog by Tine Huus

The Wolf of Wall Street Aside, Do Leaders Know What They Want with Their Leadership?

The first film I saw in the New Year was Scorsese’s Wolf of Wall Street though I had been warned it might clash with my feminist values. The film actually got me thinking about leadership – here we saw a leader who created an engaging and fun (though biased) work environment based on a completely unsustainable business model. From the outset, the Wolf knew what he wanted with his leadership, and then things got out of balance.

We have probably all at some point discussed with colleagues and friends if they have ever been managed by a leader who made you feel you are enough, can do your best work, while constantly raising the bar and with fun as an ingredient? Many of us are leaders ourselves. How is the rating when we turn the mirror to ourselves as leaders?

This made me reflect on the following questions. Do leaders know what they want with their leadership? Do employees know what they want from their leaders? Is the whole concept of leadership polluted by trillions of theories and varied application? Is the whole thing anyway changing rapidly with Gen-Y joining the workforce, work happening in matric structures, more online and virtually?

According to the current Edelman Trust Barometer, there is a leadership crisis and the largest ever gap between trust importance and trust performance in business and government since the study began in 2001. One of their 2014 recommendations is for the CEO to become the Chief Engagement Officer, taking responsibility for establishment of the context in which change will occur. We increasingly trust technical experts and “a person like yourself” more than top leadership. In general, employee engagement surveys show a substantial gap in perceptions between senior management and experts or workers on engaging leadership and culture of trust. Top of the house perceptions can be three times as favourable and simply out-of-touch with their own organisations and employees.

I think employees do know what they want from leaders, however, if they don’t get it, few are brave enough to challenge and ask for it. In other words, we follow half-hearted leadership and our engagement and performance become half-hearted. In Plato’s words, we waste our work life away as “an unexplored life is not worth living”. Leaders not considering what values they want to create waste our time.

How come when we – leaders and employees – can choose between “good” culture (focus on stakeholders, regular, transparent, two-way communications, agility, and sustainability) and “bad” culture (focus on profit, infrequent, branded, top-down communications, complacency, and short-term), we don’t wholeheartedly go for good? What’s stopping us? The Wolf of Wall Street was a truly engaging leader though building his business on an entirely bad culture.

Many of us will not be able to name even one leader who truly engaged us. I have personally had about 15 managers in my career and sat in several leadership teams. I can name two individuals, both male and of another nationality. Perhaps adding culture into the relationship means you mutually become more curious, explorative, and reflective, have deeper conversations, and come to fully trust each other through the process.

Leadership starts with what is the most important – dreams and values. I also came across the concept of “protreptic coaching” recently. Protreptic means turning a person towards what is most important and has dominated leadership academies until the 18th century since its inception in ancient Greece. Through dialogues on ideals, model organisations, values, norms, dreams, and visions, you find for yourself what is most important as a human being and reflect on who you really are and who you aspire to be. Today, we could return to these human dialogues in feedback and performance management processes to start re-articulating what leadership is about, what value it brings, and what dilemmas are involved. It would be natural to do business whole-heartedly and in a holistic way.

If this was part of the package, Gen-Y employees might want to take the leadership path like their parents. It would prepare employees to take leadership roles as well as people to step in and out of leadership roles. As in (online) communities, the one with the vision takes the lead. Even the Wolf of Wall Street might have found a sustainable business model and promoted an inclusive culture, had he continued his leadership journey with reflections and conversations on what is most important and got the balance in place.

I am curious to hear your reflections? As a leader, do you know what you want with your leadership?

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