One of the biggest paradoxes in leadership is that many of the most powerful decision makers, trend setters, and influencers in the world can be some of the hardest people to work with. Though this is a phenomenon that exists in just about every sphere of human activity, the business world in particular stands out. The hollowed halls of the corporate elite are littered with countless examples of gross mis-management, greed, and inflated egos. The sad truth is that even if someone may have a high position in leadership, it doesn’t mean that this person is any good at leading.
In fact, I recently saw a study which claimed that the more CEOs get paid, the worse their companies end up performing, and don’t think this just affects a handful of ridiculously over-compensated CEOs, either. This same pattern exists, claim the researchers, regardless of whether the CEOs were at the highest end of the pay spectrum or at the lowest.
How did we get here?
While it may be easy to just blame the leadership itself, the truth is behind every bad leader, you will also find a group of people who choose to follow this person as well as the the systems and processes that allowed the leader to attain his or her position in the first place. When people are selecting leaders based on superficial qualities without the proper due diligence, and the recruiting and promotion systems offer little leadership support and training, then it’s little wonder why the potential star performers are turning into big black holes, sucking up precious resources and sapping a firm of its vitality.
In The Wake of Poor Leaders, Lots of Distressed Employees
There is a lot of incentive to get those leadership decisions right. A while back I read the book, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, by Marshall Goldsmith. One of the biggest take aways from the book is that the higher your level of success, the more destructive your bad habits become because your potential impact on others is greater, and you can affect the experiences of a large number of people.
The businesses that have chosen to embrace poor leaders become toxic environments that negatively impact not just productivity but people’s self-esteem, health, well-being and relationships both at work and at home. As Simon Sinek puts it, “our jobs are killing us and the people who are responsible are our leaders.”
Good Leaders Make Good Impressions
In my opinion, leadership has little to do with position or titles. Real, honorable leadership is an attitude. It stems from the desire to serve and support others and to bring out their very best- not just to get the job done. Good leaders give off positive vibes that are infectious, rubbing off on anyone who comes into contact with them.
In my executive search firm, we make our assessments on individuals’ ability to perform by the confidential, 360 feedback we get from the people who work around them. This typically includes the employee’s former team subordinates, peers, and direct reports. We do this partly because the best indication of good leadership is the impact and influence employees have on those around them. This is a quality that is impossible to hide or fake.
Most importantly this process works at every organisational level. As employees rise through the ranks of general management to become leaders, directors and principals, there are usually very clear signs along the way that point to their leadership abilities. 360 degree feedback is certainly a good place to start. But the decision makers in the recruiting and promotion process need to be looking for these signs in the first place.
Just as you can’t judge a book by its cover, you can’t judge the effectiveness of a leader just by his or her title, no matter how impressive it may be.