The Leadership Delusion
02 November 2016 - by Geoff Ribbens and Alistair Cumming
This paper was presented to HRD & Consultancy Masters Degree students in the Department of Organisational Psychology Birkbeck, University of London on the 27th Oct 2016
There is a big industry behind leadership training so there is a financial incentive to make the claim that leadership is a characteristic of the leader, to justify the fact that they can then be trained. The problem is that Empirical research has found very few characteristics associated with leadership, apart from the fact that they have ‘followers’. In addition the concept of leadership is seldom adequately defined.
In this paper we define leadership as “a social situation where followers (or team members) willingly and enthusiastically accept the authority of the leader”. So the real question is “Why do followers accept the authority of leaders willingly and enthusiastically?” This approach is much more fruitful in understanding leadership because it explains why the same leader can succeed with one team and fail with another. Leadership is thus a quality in the minds of the followers – so to understand leadership do not look at leaders but look at the followers.
We argue that team members or followers accept the authority of the leader willingly and enthusiastically because the leader is seen as rewarding to them either socially, psychologically or materially. Different teams in different companies seek different types of rewards, to become a person who is perceived as possessing leadership (defined above) all the leader therefore has to do is find the out the social, psychological or material rewards the team is looking for.
Once the leader understands the team’s perception of them and the “rewards” that they are looking for then training or coaching in leadership can be much more powerful and relevant.
The trouble with management theory is that it often fails to follow the basic rules of science, this can be seen in how the concept of ‘leadership’ has been used. There are many books on Leadership and there are a multitude of courses run for managers – most of the managers are attracted to, and want to possess, the ‘quality of leadership’, whatever that quality is?
Basic rule one : Define your terms.
In this paper we use terms like manager, leader, leadership, power, authority and follower. We are using these terms in the following way:
- ‘Power’ is the ability to ‘influence others’ by any means available such as threats and violence.
- ‘Authority’ is legitimate use of power, ‘influencing others’ in a socially acceptable way.
- ‘Leader’ is a person who has authority (legitimate power) – this can be formal as in management or informal as leading a social group.
- ‘Manager’ is a recognised role in an organisation, usually associated with administrative authority. Many authors have argued that there are significant distinctions distinction between ‘management’ and ‘leadership’ (eg Burns, 1978; Bass, 1985; Kotter, 1988), but commonly the two terms are used inter-changeably as if they refer to the same thing. In this paper, we are deliberately separating the two terms. As we are defining ‘Managers’ as having a specific organisational role, a ‘Manager’ may or may not be seen by their employees as ‘leaders’. Similarly, those who are seen as ‘leaders’ by their followers may or may not be ‘Managers’ in a formal sense. In this paper, we are most interested in ‘leaders’ and ‘leadership’, so we will mostly use those terms, and only refer to ‘managers’ and ‘management’ when we specifically want to highlight those people who are in those specific organisational roles.
- ‘Followers’, are people who “willingly and enthusiastically accept the authority (influence) of a leader”. The concept of ‘leadership’ implies that the person has followers. This can apply in many different contexts. In a political sphere these ‘followers’ may be voters or supporters.
- ‘Team’ is a recognised social group who have common goals and a common identity. In this paper we are using the term in the organisational context.
- ‘Leadership’ is a social situation where “team members willingly and enthusiastically accept the authority of the leader.” This concept is the main thrust of this paper. We may even refer to ‘leadership’ in the political sphere and in this context we will use the term ‘voters’ or ‘supporters’.
- ‘Leadership Style’ is the predominant operating style adopted by a person who is seeking to lead others, whether or not whether or not they are formally ‘managers’. Commonly people use this term interchangeably with ‘management style’, but in this paper, as above, we will keep these two terms separate. We will only refer to ‘leadership styles’.
We have read many books on ‘leadership’ where the term is not defined. The term is used as if all readers know what it means whilst in reality each reader probably has their own interpretation of what the concept means. The American approach in particular seems to be that a financially successful business manager has leadership qualities irrespective of how they behave – they have leadership because they are successful in business. For example, Kotter (1988:5) footnotes : “Leadership is … the process of moving a group (or groups) in some direction through mostly non-coercive means. Effective leadership is … leadership that produces movement in the long term interests of the group(s)”. To our mind this muddles ‘leadership’ style with business results or some value judgement about a group’s “long term interests”. In the UK in more recent times the approach seems to see leadership as a quality linked to the emotional intelligence of the manager, he or she should be socially sensitive, trustworthy and so on. Some commentators even refer to “authentic leadership” as if other definitions are not “authentic”. (George, 2003).
One commentator Jeffrey Pfeffer (2016:95), even suggests that leadership is the ability “to get things done”. Clearly an inadequate definition, for a start “things” and “done” are too broad to help explain and describe events. One of the main problems seems to be that writers on leadership seem to muddle successful CEOs and senior executives in business (commonly seen as ‘business leaders’) with ‘leadership’. Making the financially correct decisions in business is fundamentally different from team members following an individual. Clearly you could define leadership as ‘business success’, but when you end up looking at successful business leaders you find that all of them have different characteristics – and no common characteristic apart from business success. Peter Fuda (2013:x) commented “I had become more and more frustrated with the literature. In my reading of both academic and practitioner-oriented texts, I struggled with a long list of qualities and attributes that defined “effective” leadership, and with the heroic persona that was often attributed to the person sitting atop the organisational hierarchy –they espoused largely noble attributes like vision, courage, and integrity. The problem was that, after so many years of working closely with CEOs and senior executives around the world, I have never met the superhero leader described in much of what I read.”
In our own reading there is a long list of Leadership characteristics highlighted such as Trust, Integrity, Honesty, Reliability, and Emotional Intelligence and so on. But no empirical evidence is provided, and no research undertaken - it is all wishful thinking. Books on leadership give examples of “great” political and industrial leaders but very successful leaders like Hitler and Stalin almost never appear. In fact research that does exist (see Board & Fritzon, 2005) indicates that a disproportional number of senior managers have “psychopathic” tendencies - so much for leadership being the domain of nice trustworthy people!
Basic rile two : Language Truth and Logic : Be clear on your conceptual perspective
In epistemology (the philosophy of science) there are two approaches to the definition of concepts (eg concepts such as ‘leadership’). One approach is ‘conceptual essentialism’ the other approach is ‘conceptual nominalism’. With ‘Conceptual essentialism’ there will only be one correct definition of any concept -so only one correct definition of leadership. A different perspective is that you can have any definition you like but some definitions are more ‘useful in describing and explaining events’ than others. This approach is referred to as ‘conceptual nominalism’ where it does not matter what definition you use as long as you define the concept you are using. Conceptual nominalism ensures that you have an ‘operational definition’ of a concept that you can then use for your specific research purposes.
Gary Yukl points out that there are many different definitions of leadership. “Leadership has been defined in terms of individual traits, leader behaviour, interaction patterns, role relationships, follower perceptions, influence over followers, influence on task goals, and influence on organisational culture”(Yukl, 1989:252).
In this paper we are suggesting that to ‘describe and explain events’ a very fruitful approach is to see leadership from the point of view of the follower’s perception and that as leadership is ‘an emergent social property’ it cannot be taken out of the social context of which it is a part. Please note that being ‘conceptual nominalists’ we are not saying that other definitions are ‘wrong’ but for our purposes they are ‘less fruitful’.
Basic rule three : Differentiate between your methodology and an explanation
In the social sciences there are different approaches or methodologies. You can look at society as a whole (complete entity) and use terms in trying to describe things such as ‘organisational’ pressure, ‘capitalism’, ‘economic forces’ and so on – referred to as ‘methodological holism’. On the other hand you can look at an organisation or society in terms of individual people and their behaviour, referred to as ‘methodological individualism’. In science it does not matter what approach you take or methodology you use, for example there are many example of creative breakthroughs from sitting in the bath or looking at an organisation as if it were an ant hill. Your initial approach or methodology can be creative but this will not in itself provide proof. How you arrive at an explanation is not important what is important is how you provide evidence in your explanation. We would argue that if you wish to really explain things on a practical level, you must ultimately refer to individual behaviour or behaviour in groups. You must therefore use terms that refer to directly observable or indirectly observable behaviours. ‘Explanatory holism’ is therefore too obscure as an explanation and we need instead to look to ‘explanatory individualism’ to provide a fuller explanation for social events.
When it comes to a concept like ‘leadership’ therefore, we must ultimately refer to a managers or leader’s behaviour, the followers or team’s behaviour or a combination of both – ‘explanatory individualism’ involves reference to individual’s thoughts, feelings or behaviours.
Basic rule four : Beware of taking social concepts out of their social context
Leadership is a very good example of this error. To try to understand the concept of leadership, which is behaviour emerging from people interacting, by only looking at the leader is to ignore the fact that leadership is an ‘emergent social property’. Leadership is clearly a quality belonging to some form of interaction between leaders and followers or between managers and their teams.
A huge number of books and courses seem to make the assumption that leadership is some form of quality belonging to the leader or manager – they have taken the concept out of the social context. As conceptual nominalists you can define concepts any way you like but some definitions help to create explanations (the aim of all sciences) whilst other definitions are far from useful.
Applying the four basic rules to Leadership
Having now established the four basic rules and their pitfalls, part of our task is to define the concept of leadership without taking it out of the social context. Our other task is to ultimately explain events referring to ‘behaviour’ which are directly or indirectly observable. We therefore define leadership as a social situation where voters or followers or team members ‘accept the authority of their leader/manager willingly and enthusiastically’. Needless to say for our research purposes we would need to define ‘willingly’ and ‘enthusiastically’ but this can be done by referring to their behaviour directly (observation) or indirectly (questionnaires and interviews).
You will note that our definition of leadership refers more to the direct or indirect behaviour of followers than leaders. The reason for this is that we learn very little from looking at leaders as they seem to behave in a multitude of different ways; many books and courses on leadership seem to make huge assumptions about ‘leadership behaviour’, based on assumptions and wishful thinking. To put it simply the only common characteristic of leadership is that leaders have followers. The most useful question to ask is therefore, why do team members (or even voters) ‘willingly and enthusiastically’ accept the authority (defined) of another individual?
This approach is value neutral, it does not matter if the leader’s reasons (or indeed the follower’s reasons for following) are honourable, dishonourable, pleasant or unpleasant, or lead to so called good or bad outcomes. Martin Luther King, had willing and enthusiastic followers as did, Winston Churchill, Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair. But so did Adolph Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Charles Manson and Saddam Hussain.
As we shall see later the key common denominator is that the followers found it ‘rewarding’ in some way to ‘willingly and enthusiastically’ follow some other individual. Needless to say we need to define ‘rewarding’ and this will be done later.
Providing an Explanation
In science an explanation is ‘a list of the necessary conditions which are jointly sufficient for an event to happen’. The simplest of events, such as what causes water to boil, requires a multitude of necessary conditions such as: ‘Water (defined as pure H2O), Heat, atmospheric pressure at 14.75 lbs per square inch, time, a vessel to contain the water, distance (the heat must be close to the water’ and so on. In the natural sciences these variables can be controlled in laboratory conditions to see if they are the ‘necessary conditions’ which are ‘jointly sufficient’ for the event to happen.
In the social sciences, and certainly in management, we cannot easily control ‘conditions’ but we can at least look at lots of different situations where leadership seems to manifest itself. Possible variables (necessary conditions) might include several people, who interact in some way or are conscious of each other, have directly or indirectly observable goals, whose behaviour is mutually influential, who share certain values, etc. We might try to pin down the type of social situation we are studying as well so we might concentrate on ‘leadership’ in organisations and define concepts such as ‘team’ as opposed to social category (all people with red hair for example), ‘manager’ or ‘team leader’ or even ‘informal leader’. We might even refer to ‘socio-emotional’ leaders or ‘task leaders’. We should also be aware of cultural factors, as people might follow others for different reason in different societies. What might be accepted as leadership in one culture might not be viewed as leadership in another culture (see Fincham & Rhodes, 1999).
As we shall see later “leadership” might also be different in different types of organisation. For example “Leadership” in the military might be different from that expected in social service settings. All this, to us, is obvious, so why is it that lots of books and courses on leadership assume it is some quality that exists outside the social situation ie there is one best way to be a leader? As a sociologist the explanation is simple. There is a huge profitable business training and coaching leaders because people, especially managers want this ‘magic gift’. To make the assumption that leadership is a quality belonging to the leader means people can simply be trained in leadership; to assume it is a complex social entity is too difficult a concept and there is no money to be made from such a standpoint. But as we will see below there is a third way here.
This could mean that if our model of leadership, as defined by the followers, is a valid one then this paper will have no impact whatsoever as there is no money in it for consultants, trainers and coaches. Given this, what might be “academically correct” could still be ignored. But bear with us because at the end of the paper we will still argue for the value of training and coaching leaders, but suggest that the focus move from the leader to the perception of the team.
‘Followership’ is more important than ‘Leadership’
As early as 1974, Stogdill concluded that “Four decades of research on leadership have produced a bewildering mass of findings…. The endless accumulation of empirical data has not produced any integrated understanding of leadership” (Stogdill, 1974:vii). Things have not improved since then. Jeffrey Pfeffer (2016:91) points out that $14 billion to $50 billion is spend on issues to do with leadership in the United States alone. All no doubt designed to improve organisational performance and or driven by the desire of managers to go on courses to become more influential through developing the “right qualities” of leadership.
But as we have set out above, leadership is more likely to be derived from the beliefs, experience, perception and behaviours of the team – if we are looking at leadership in its social context. In some ways to see leadership as a quality belonging to the leader or manager is therefor similar to a mirage. The so called qualities of leadership exists in the followers minds and are then projected onto the person seen as a ‘leader’.
Clearly the behaviour of the leader or manager has an impact on the follower’s perception but it is not simple cause and effect – social life is much more complex than that. When it comes to organisational behaviour (although strictly speaking organisations do not behave so we should say the “behaviour of people within organisations” because we are ‘explanatory individualists’), the most important thing for the success of that organisation is actually the behaviour of team members; in many ways the behaviour of the leader is secondary.
Ask yourself two simple questions:
- If a leader believes they have ‘leadership skills’ but the team members do not: does the leader actually have ‘leadership skills’?
- If a leader does not believe they have ‘leadership skills’ but the team members do: then does the leader have ‘leadership skills’?
Clearly the answer must be 2.
Leadership training often starts with a discussion of ‘great’ political or organisational leaders. Historically, and in society generally, few of these ‘leaders’ have been trained in leadership and the so called ‘qualities’ they have been attributed with, often turn out to be delusions, qualities that only exist in the minds of the followers. Very often this is because followers have a desperate need or desire for that delusion- especially in time of war or a crisis.
In recent years, in the world political setting, decisions have been made based on the “great man” or “great woman” concept, the ‘heroic leadership’ concept. In the Middle East there seemed to be the belief in the West that if only the ‘leader’ or ‘despotic dictator’ could be removed, then peace, democracy and tranquillity would prevail. The removal of Saddam Hussein in Iraq and other leaders in the ‘Arab Spring’ highlighted the fallacy at the heart of this delusion or mirage. The war in Iraq was not over once Saddam Hussein was removed, and the Arab Spring created new problems once the rulers were removed.
Matching Leadership to the needs of Followers
Perhaps, in the political context we should focus instead our efforts on how we might change the follower’s perceptions, rather than trying to get rid of a leader who will, in all probability, just be replaced by a replica. Political leaders and those close to them have always known that to maintain the delusion of ‘leadership’ they have to control the ideas, fears and beliefs of the followers. Throughout history they have done this by censorship, propaganda, military control and in some cases by public relations. This highlights that in society whilst leaders may not be ‘trained’, their ‘followers’ certainly are – or at least conditioned!
It has always been known in the military and in bureaucracies that controlling the minds of the followers creates ‘leadership’; followers (a squad, a team, a department) have been managed, controlled, coerced and conditioned to “obey” their “superiors”. In a bureaucracy (actually in most organisations) there are negative consequences of not obeying your manager, you can lose your job, not be promoted, given a poor appraisal and so on. In the military, especially in the First World War, not obey your superior often meant you were shot. In these cases authority is largely based on fear or coercive authority or normative control.
It should always be remembered that the manager’s behaviour (or style of managing) is not simple cause and effect; the manager’s behaviour is filtered and interpreted by the team. This explains why it is that in one situation a manager’s behaviour is interpreted as “leadership” yet in another situation it may be interpreted as “weakness”, even if it is exactly the same behaviour.
We are not advocating what the military have always done ie train the ‘troops’ to obey. What we are suggesting is that the manager should find out their team’s perception of them as a manager and their present perceived ‘leadership style’. Do not ask the manager about their leadership style but ask the team members, because it is the team members perception that determines the teams behaviour and performance.
Fuda (2013:xvi) studied “successful business leaders” and made them more successful in business by making them aware of how other fellow directors saw them. Working with others and changing ‘others’ perception was the key to success. It is the team’s perception that determines the team’s behaviour and performance.
The Power of Perception
So how do you best identify the ‘leadership style’ of a manager? Actually this is quite simple – all you have to do is ask team members. After all, as earlier, we are interested in ‘leadership style’ as perceived by the team members or followers.
In our own approach we use a simple on-line questionnaire (the Leadership Pathway Audit™ www.business-enlightenment.com) that identifies 60 different types of authority found commonly in organisational settings. These 60 types of authority come under 12 main headings. The twelve main headings are based on five statements about the basis of the manager’s (or leader’s) authority, so there are five different ways of looking at each of the 12 headings.
The twelve headings are based on the team member’s perception.
There may not be anything new about some of these. For example, French and Raven’s early study (1968) referred to Position Power, Coercive Power, Reward Power, Expert Power and Referent Power (charisma). Similarly, Hertzberg’s study (1959) identified motivating factors. What is new though is how they are helpful in describing and explaining team member’s perceptions.
- The manager is perceived as having authority based on their position or job title.
- The manger is perceived as being coercive or forceful
- The manager is perceived as over controlling
- The manager is seen to use extrinsic rewards – time off money and bonuses etc
- The manager has authority based on their perceived administrative or organisation expertise
- The manager’s authority is based on their technical expertise– IT experts, Accountancy skills, professional HR knowledge.
- The manager’s perceived authority is based on their overall business knowledge or expertise.
- The manager’s authority is based on their perceived confidence to represent the team and manage.
- The manager’s authority is based on their perceived ability to motivate team members - based on Herzberg’s motivators.
- The manager is perceived as a coach or trainer or mentor
- The manager is perceived as an agent of change.
- The manager is perceived as sharing the teams vision and values
Because we are interested in social contexts where the authority of the managers is ‘willingly and enthusiastically’ accepted by team members, so it is up to team members to decide what a ‘leadership profile’ should look like – in their own minds - with reference to the headings above.
We have split our twelve headings into three blocks.
- Block A represents perceptions by team members that generally lead to demotivation.
- Block B represents perceptions by team members that can de-motivate if not present but do not necessarily motivate if present.
- Block C represents perceptions by team members that generally motivate team members and lead to a situation where they accept the mangers authority ‘willingly and with enthusiasm’.
The Twelve Dimension Profile
To describe the three headings above as Negative, Neutral or Positive is to take the discussion out of the social context. It is not us, the observers, that should decide this, but the perception of the team members. Leadership as a concept must be placed in the social context; the context of the expectations, experience and perception of team members. Thus an effective motivated team might perceive a different ‘leadership’ profile according to the company culture. As we have said before, a leader in the military might then have a different ‘leadership’ profile from a leader in the social services.
Block A: Perceptions that generally lead to de-motivation; that is a situation where team members are unlikely to ‘willingly and enthusiastically’ accept the authority of the leader
If a manager only had position authority it could be very de-motivational for the team or it could mean that the manager is new and has yet to develop other forms of authority. In the Military and in Bureaucracies and perhaps in the emergency services such as the fire service and police service it might not be seen as de-motivational for team members to have some degree of fear for the person in power (ie the manager had the potential to be coercive) and to accept their position power as well. But managers who are over controlling in the eyes of their team members will tend to de-motivate them as it is the reverse of empowerment. Similarly, managers controlling team members through individual extrinsic rewards clearly can undermine cooperation and team work. But in some organisations, such as those that employ regional sales people, the use of extrinsic rewards might be the norm and not necessarily de-motivational. All these forms of authority have to be placed in their social context.
Block B: Perceptions that can de-motivate if not present (but would not necessarily motivate)
Managers who are good at planning and organising do not let the team down but such abilities do not motivate in themselves. Having confidence to manage might be a good thing, but there is always the chance that an authoritarian mangers with coercive power and position power might be very confident and yet not have a motivated team. Many managers these days may lack technical expertise as they might employ people who are technically superior –this is very common in IT as there is so much rapid technical change. The manager in this case might compensate for this lack of technical authority by being respected for their knowledge of the business or sector.
Block C: Perceptions that generally motivate and lead to accepting authority ‘willingly and with enthusiasm’
It is clear that all these perceptions have a common theme and that the manager is perceived as being psychologically rewarding to team members. One or two (or even all) of these perceptions combined with perceptions in the other two areas are likely to create a situation where the manager’s authority is ‘willingly and enthusiastically’ supported. The four perceptions that lead to team engagement are the 1.The presence of basic motivators (ie recognition, responsibility, job interest and sense of achievement.); 2. When team members feel that they are learning from their manager (ie training, coaching, sharing, mentoring etc); 3.When the manager is perceived as an agent of change; and 4.When the manager represents the team’s values, principles and vision.
Our suggested approach has some clear explanatory power:
- In the political sphere despotic leaders can be removed but are nearly always followed by other despotic leaders. Russia since the Revolution in 1917 is a good example here, the Czar is overthrown only to be followed by a Czar replica. In the Arab spring one despotic leader is replaced by an identikit dictator. What has not changed is the experience and expectations of the population because leadership is defined by them. They have not experienced democracy so they would not see a democratic leader as having leadership skills.
- When a previously successful leader (successful in that the leader has ‘willing and enthusiastic’ followers in their old role) is asked to manage a new team, especially a new team in a new company, they may well fail because successful leadership is defined by the team.
- When managers go on leadership training courses they often go back to their department or team and try to change their behaviour. Their new behaviour is not what the team have experienced or expect and in the teams eyes the manager may be failing as a leader. A good example of this is a manager who has been over-controlling with a ‘tell style’ of leading. Following training they then try to change their behaviour and try to involve team members in decision making -because they have been told that empowerment and participation lead to greater productivity. However the result is often lower productivity because the team just feel that the once over-controlling manager has now become weak and indecisive.
So condition and train the followers?
As we have suggested earlier, training, conditioning and indoctrinating the relevant population is how, historically, society has grown its leaders and how leaders have gained their authority. This still happens in society and in bureaucracies generally. It has been suggested that HR is the custodian of the company’s culture and as such HR spends a considerable amount of time and energy trying to gain ‘employee engagement’. This too is part of the conditioning process even if it is well intentioned. But it is clearly too expensive to indoctrinate and condition teams and much cheaper to train managers. Yet most of this training fails because leadership is defined as a quality that the leader has. However, if you train managers to see leadership as a quality in the minds of the team members they can then concentrate their attention on the experience and expectations of those team members.
It is actually quite simple to do this. Firstly, find out how the team presently see the managers authority – what leadership style does the team perceive their manager as possessing? The manager is thus confronted with how others see them and this can be very motivational for the manager themselves. Their coach or trainer can then discuss with the manager any changes they might want to make. One way of doing this is to ask “if you were a team member what style would you willingly accept?”
In the discussion the manager may well decide to change their behaviour, to do more of some things and less of others. But as we have suggested above this is likely to fail as the whole point of the exercise is to change the expectations, experience and perceptions of team members. This is the job of the newly trained manager and the way to do this is to involve the team, to explain to the team why the manager is changing their behaviour. Fuda (2013) actually got his executive directors to do this and it was highly motivational for the team and productivity went up.
The key point is that the manager concentrates on understanding how team members perceive them and then tries to change that perception, if necessary. In reality the manager is trying to understand how their team perceives psychological and social rewards.
Leadership exists in the eyes of the followers.
Some training organisations use a 360 degree approach to help managers “improve”. This approach looks at feedback from team members, colleagues, bosses and perhaps even customers. Whilst this sounds a sensible approach, clearly it has the disadvantage that colleagues, bosses and customers do not know the manager’s leadership style because it is only the team members who experience and can comment on their manager’s style, and the nature of their manager’s authority.
Similarly, the managers own senior managers will be and should be judging the manager on his or her team’s performance. Senior management are looking for different ‘rewards’ from their managers (eg higher employee engagement, higher productivity, achieving goals linked to strategy, low labour turnover and low levels of conflict) than the ‘rewards’ of interest to their team. A good example of this is for a shop steward. From the team member’s point of view the shop steward may will be perceived has having leadership qualities because the shop steward is delivering rewards to the team. Needless to say management may not see the shop steward in the same light. Clearly there will be occasions when the ‘rewards’ the team is looking for and the ‘rewards’ senior management is looking for overlap. If so, both the team and senior management may perceive the manager as having ‘leadership skills’, but their reasons for this view would be different – the ‘rewards’ are different for both groups.
This difference of perspective might also explain why there exist a percentage of senior managers with psychopathic tendencies (Board & Fritzon, 2005:17-32). These managers may well be perceived as having leadership skills by their own senior executives because “they get things done” – but team members no doubt see these managers with their psychopathic tendencies in a completely different light and they certainly do not accept that person’s authority ‘willingly and with enthusiasm’!
Clearly, from a manager’s perspective, we might expect a desire to be perceived as having ‘leadership skills’ both by their team and by their senior managers above them. In this case the manager needs to know both the rewards team members are looking for and the rewards that senior management are looking for. These may be different rewards but they need not be incompatible.
Conclusion: A new approach to Leadership Training
We have argued in this paper that training leaders in so called ‘qualities’ that are based on wishful thinking or a delusion will commonly be a waste of time. Even when the training is based on improving a managers interpersonal skills, emotional intelligence or techniques for empowering team members, the approach is often less effective than it could be. If, however, you start from the premise that leadership exists in the minds of the team members then the first thing you need to find out is “what is in their minds” or more precisely “why do team members accept the authority of their manager”. Once a manager knows how their team perceives them and understands the nature of their own authority, they are then highly motivated to learn from any leadership training programme. Understanding how others see us is a great motivator.
If a team accepts their mangers authority ‘willingly and with enthusiasm’ then the manager is perceived as having ‘leadership’. If the manager is perceived as having ‘leadership’ then the manager is more likely to have a motivated and engaged team. In such a social environment the manager is more likely to bring in innovation, change and improvement with the minimum of resistance. An outcome that should then please both the manager, their senior managers and their followers.
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