Friday, December 14, 2007

Why leaders fail to reach their full potential?

Some leaders, though initially win, fail to reach their full potential and cross the lines into destructive or even unethical actions. A Harvard research on derailing behaviours of leadership is examined with Indian stories by M R Chandramowly.

A study of unsuccessful leaders revealed a pattern: the failed leaders couldn’t lead themselves. On their leadership journey these high potential managers adopted a set of personal behaviours that worked temporarily but were unsustainable in the long run (Bill George - a professor of management practice at Harvard Business School and Andrew McLean - former research associate at Harvard Business School).The five perilsBill and Andrew with their team interviewed 125 successful leaders of major organisations and studied the cases of top leaders who failed. The study concluded in identifying five behavioural perils of leadership journey, which are:
being an impostor, rationalising, glory seeking, playing lone and being a shooting star.

Imposter Vadanesh, the CEO stood out different in terms of his actions and speed. On joining, he quickly postulated departmental objectives as he thought it fit, brought some people of his choice and removed few who questioned his way.He ‘empowered’ his direct reports and relocated their cabins opposite to his chambers to ensure ‘good teamwork’. Also made projections of great business plans. Year ended with no revenue and subsequent quarterly results reflected the same. Projections just remained in power point slides and the point of power started moving away. Finally, his reactive style resulted in his exit and also kept him away from family life.An imposter leader believes in style, stunts and faking. Such people climb up corporate ladder using a combination of cunning and aggression. They are ultimate political animals and move on letting no one to stand in their way. Most of the time, they engage to figure out who their competitors are and to eliminate them one by one. Impostors lose confidence in using their power since they fail to look at the good of an organisation. Absence of self-reflection stops their personal development. They attack their critics, destroying their own feedback channels only to finally face forced exit for their inaction leading to poor results.
Rationaliser Jitender, the MD of a multi-national expanded the Indian business using acquisition and joint venture strategies. After seeing himself at the heart of success, the company waited for the harvest on their huge investments. Pay back periods expired. There were problems and issues at many levels, which were blamed upon people.Managers were made scapegoats and asked to leave, as Jitender tactfully trapped them. It all culminated in Jitender’s exit when the organisation bled with all the damages caused by his wrong decisions and favouritism.
Rationalisers don’t admit their mistakes for fear of failure or of losing their jobs. Since they take no responsibility for their setback, they rationalise their problems away. When things don’t go their way, they tend to blame external forces or subordinates or offer facile answers to their problems. Worse yet, they may attempt to cover them up or deny them. Ultimately, they become the victims of their own rationalisations, as do their depleted organisations.
Glory seeker Meghnath, the erstwhile factory manager rose to the level of Country Manger using his success formula. He spent most of his time in meetings of associations and organisations ensuring that his name is constantly heard in corporate circles. He would travel abroad once a month and create an agenda to make the trip.He introduced attractive executive facilities and policies only to get a maximum benefit to him. Employees at all levels understood this self-interest focus and provided feedback through integrity hotlines. Over a period, his leadership melted away due to the heat he generated around himself.Such leaders who seek glory are motivated by a need for acclaim. Their perception of success stems from money, fame, glory, and power. For a leader stuck in the trap of glory seeking, thirst for fame becomes unquenchable. They are prone to try to divert more and more resources from their organisation to their own use.
Loner Amarendra had tons of knowledge and displayed high degree of business acumen. But his personal style of snobbery and vanity kept him away from people. He did not realise why people opposed to his ideas though they were good. Our effort in putting him in an ISABS session also did not yield any result. He became a loner and had to leave the organisation.When leaders adopt the loner role they avoid forming close relationships, fail to seek out mentors, and don’t create support networks. As a result they are cut off from appropriate feedback. When results elude them and criticism of their leadership grows, they retreat to the bunker. They become rigid in pursuing their objectives, not recognising it is their behaviour that makes it impossible to reach their goals. Meanwhile, their organizations unravel or their personal lives crumble.
Shooting star Avesh, the candidate for CFO had changed 12 jobs in a span of 18 years. A commerce graduate, though successful initially, went on changing jobs for money and title. He was first to enter the office and the last one to clock out. Leaving his family in a distant place stayed alone and always preferred to be with CEOs he worked for. He continued to jump jobs and spent time in crisis management than building a strong Finance organisation. Suffering from serious illness he is now resting worrying about his unfulfilled dream to become a real CFO. The lives of shooting star leaders centre entirely on their careers. They are always on the go, travelling incessantly to get ahead and rarely make time for family, friendships, their communities, or even themselves. Much-needed sleep and exercise are continually deferred.
Self-development As they run ever faster, their stress mounts. A year or two into any job, they are ready to move on, before they have to confront the results of their decisions. If their employer doesn’t promote them, they are off to another organisation. One day they find themselves at the top, overwhelmed by an intractable set of problems and eventually they flame out.
Successful leaders directly address these peril behaviours and move beyond, gaining a sense of larger purpose, fostering multiple support networks and develop mechanisms to keep perspective and stay grounded. Bill George and Andrew McLean, conclude their research findings by saying “No one is immune to the seductions or pressures of leadership that create these five types of destructive behaviours. By undertaking a dedicated process of self-development, authentic leaders will be able to navigate these hazards as they progress in their careers and stay grounded in the process.”To do this, one need to view the leadership journey as a human journey.
To initiate this learning process, one should first ask himself five fundamental questions:
*Who am I, and what are my strengths and developmental needs?
*What motivates me to lead?
*What is the purpose of my leadership?
*Who can I rely upon for real feedback and support?
*How can I sustain myself in this leadership role?
Honest answers to these questions enable an individual to avoid or overcome the five hazards of leadership. There is nothing wrong with desiring the rewards of leadership as long as they are combined with a deeper concern to serve something greater than oneself.
The author is HRD Expert and Leadership Competency Architect. E-mail:

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