Great Man Theory
Everyone needs their heroes. Even those who may not admit to having heroes or heroines may at least acknowledge that there are role models who (positively) influence them.
Just as many aspects of life may be attributed to nature or nurture, or a combination of the two, people’s suitability for leadership has also often been debated along similar lines.
Are some people “born to lead”?
Or are they made?
Amongst those who believed they were born was Thomas Carlyle, known for his “Great Man Theory” which suggested that only those men with some form of heroic potential could become leaders. This was very much in line with the historical thinking of the writers (or should that be the historical writing of the thinkers?) from Rome, Greece, China and Egypt, all of whom admired the special and perhaps divine qualities associated with leaders who seemed to be able to naturally inspire their followers to great successes, predominantly military.
Indeed this raises the question “why does so much of human history appear to be about conflict and wars?” including for reasons as basic as “I/we want what you have” (which can vary from toys amongst children to land and mineral resources amongst infantile adults, never satisfied with what they have and always want more, especially when someone else owns it) and “I’m / we’re right and you’re wrong”, notably when the opposite is true.
Indeed when both parties believe they are more right and neither is capable of apologizing or (even more difficult) forgiving, human history would suggest that at the least an argument between two or more people or organisations is inevitable and, at worst, a war between two or more nations can develop for such simple reasons as having to be seen to be right, wanting something the other possesses or an inability to apologize or find a mutually agreeable compromise.
Indeed those who prefer win-lose to win-win will be unlikely to be the peacemaker and more likely the protagonist, who prefers to prolong than end the conflict.
Could this be because organisations and nations have been led by those who are or were fundamentally combative by nature, impulsively thriving on conflict and disharmony rather than co-operation and harmonious progress?
Could this be because such people lack the core essence of humanity including empathy, being cold and self-centred to the core, with little real interest in other people at all, indeed in no-one else but themselves? (Yet we appoint such people to leadership roles in society).
Could this be because they lack a conscience and the ability to learn from their prior experiences, especially their mistakes, so for those who have to deal with them, every day can seem like Groundhog Day? When they seem to stubbornly refuse the seek or act on the sensible, rational and responsible advice of their peers, few might appreciate that this could be due to a psychological inability to learn from prior experiences, which can seem to compound their very apparent irrationality and irresponsibility. (Yet we appoint such people to leadership roles in society).
Could this be because they lack the ability to experience remorse, so never feel guilty when they do wrong, especially when they harm other people? (Yet we appoint such people to leadership roles in society).
Could this be because they believe they are the greatest person ever born, when those who have to deal with them regularly would privately prefer they had never been born? (Yet we appoint such people to leadership roles in society).
Could this be because they seek constant praise and when not being praised by others will praise themselves? (Yet we appoint such people to leadership roles in society).
Could this be because they thrive on criticism of others, yet cannot take an iota of criticism themselves? (Yet we appoint such people to leadership roles in society).
Could this be because they use and manipulate other people to help them achieve their personal goals, which can include the necessity to extract significant revenge against anyone they considered may have wronged them, even if they didn’t, motivated by “getting their own way” and “winning at all costs”, irrespective of the consequences for anyone and anything else? (Yet we appoint such people to leadership roles in society).
Such people are well capable of managing to convince others that they are Great Men, until it transpires they may be what I refer to as “Disordered Leaders” who (innately) practice “Destructive Leadership”, with their greatest success perhaps being their ability to hide or mask their true tendencies and deep inner coldness, at least much of the time from most people, especially from those who don’t know them well. (Yet we appoint such people to leadership roles in society).
Would the world we share not be more harmonious if we learned in advance how to identify this type of person – with a personality disorder – and NOT appoint such people to leadership roles in global society, denying them the opportunity to become “Disordered Leaders”, given they are more likely to prioritise themselves and their insatiable personal needs over those of the people they were chosen to lead, who they prefer to mis-lead?
Perhaps the greatest legacy of Disordered Leaders, when they eventually are deposed from the positions of power which they squandered because they lacked the vision to see the needs of their people and how best to serve them, is that it makes everyone else seem great and appreciate the more selfless, generous and kind characteristics which many people who have been appointed to managerial and leadership roles in society possess, but who very few outside their own arena get to hear about because they seek to keep a low personal profile, not needing to be seen to be great, although this is how those they actually do provide leadership for perceive them?
Perhaps those leaders who themselves need to believe they are great, and desperately need the affirmation of others to believe they are great, may not be at all, quite the contrary and may even be deeply insecure and lacking confidence in their abilities, which may be more minimal than their outward displays of bravado may convey, hence needing everyone else to regularly tell them how brilliant they are, when privately they don’t rate them at all and certainly would never consider them to be great? Vanity is no substitute for sanity.
Those that dare tell them will find themselves not only criticised, ridiculed and diminished but probably unemployed, or in some societies, far worse. And yet time after time again throughout human history this is the kind of person that others allowed to become leaders, even if sometimes they had no option as in the case of dictators, both of businesses and nations.
How Great can they really be if they believe that discouragement, fear, intimidation, disharmony and conflict is preferable to encouragement, praise, harmony and cooperation?
Are they missing something if they consider that is the right way to lead and what people best respond to? Like the core essence of Humanity, indicated in a variety of ways by the manner in which they display their genuine interest in those they are tasked with leading? Truly Great Leaders possess Humanity in abundance, recognising that without their follower’s enthusiastic commitment towards achieving whatever their common cause may be, the entity as an entirety is likely to underperform and underachieve.
In essence the Great Man Theory is the belief that some people are born to be leaders, while others are not. In 1847 Carlyle stated that
“Universal history, the history of what man has accomplished in this world, is at the bottom of the history of the great men who have worked here”.
Advocates of the Great Man theory believe that Great Leaders are born with traits which result in specific patterns of behaviour, consistent across different situations. They use these traits to lead instinctively, especially when the need is greatest when they come into their own and display their natural prowess. Great leaders were often portrayed in heroic and mythological terms and they were ordained to rise to greatness when situations most needed them.
In an 1880 lecture William James proposed that Great Men of genius brought about societal change, even if their initial leadership role may have been accidental, as they subsequently grew into whatever role the situation required.
The Great Man theory suggests that gifted people are more likely to influence and advance society, including those who make great scientific breakthroughs.
Although the theory is often associated with military leaders who achieved success in battle, Carlyle’s six types of heroic leaders as well as kings included prophets, writers, poets, priests and the divine, with history being made by those with appropriate personal leadership traits.
Such natural born leaders possess characteristics including social and communication skills, charisma, intellect and confidence.
Sidney Hook, author of “The Hero in History” which cited the example of many influential people, proposed a difference between “eventful” and “event-making” people, with the “eventful” people playing important roles but not changing the course of history, something which “event-making” people did. Without their involvement and without they possessing outstanding abilities, society may not have progressed or history been made. Their role was based on “the consequences of outstanding capacities of intelligence, will and character rather than the actions of distinction”.
The more black and white nature of the Great Man theory, that on the one hand leaders are born not made, suggesting that on the other hand people cannot learn to become effective leaders, that copious amounts of coaching or training cannot make a leader out of someone without any appropriate innate traits, or nature without any role for nurture, would not be as fashionable today.
Critics suggest that many useful things also happened throughout history which were not the result of great individual leaders, who were as likely to be products of their social environment as well as any innate personal qualities, and that many other people who worked in effect in teams with the Great Men could also have played a significant role in successes and achievements, especially those who sought no publicity for themselves.
The wide availability of courses in business schools including MBA programs as well as many other sources of education, including online, would suggest that people with a reasonable level of ability can improve their performance and better reach their potential, including managerial and leadership, with appropriate training and application.
Advocating nature while dismissing nurture and learning may have been more appropriate in the 19th than 21st century. Nevertheless it is evident that some people clearly do possess traits which make them more likely to become successful managers and leaders.
However I will later argue that what I describe as the “ICE “characteristics of Intelligence, Charisma and Intelligence may on the one hand make for many highly successful leaders, but on the other hand can also mask fundamentally negative and even destructive tendencies, more likely to cause harm than do good, which I will refer to as “Destructive Leadership” which is mal-practiced by “Disordered Leaders”.
In essence they are the polar opposite of that advocated and researched in the many leadership theories, all of which describe the predominantly positive role which the leader plays in motivating and perhaps inspiring both individuals and groups achieve their goals.
Perhaps Great Leaders see the potential in those they are tasked with leading, want to see this fulfilled and do wherever it takes to do so, knowing that not only do those individuals benefit personally and professionally, but so too does the group at large.
None of the leadership theories suggest that the role of the leader is to prioritise themselves and their self-interest over their organisation, followers and indeed all other stakeholders, nor that one of their primary functions is to demotivate, belittle and humiliate, indeed quite the opposite.
Yet this is what too many managers and leaders do and why I felt compelled to write about this, having worked with and for far too many people more interested in themselves than those they are supposed to be setting an admirable example for, yet who they criticize, diminish, demean and discourage when all the research at its most basic suggests they should be encouraging and motivating, and maybe even inspiring to produce their best.
Society needs leaders who derive their primary satisfaction from making the people they lead feel better, never worse.
Although happiness is not advocated as preferable or admirable by any of the Leadership Theories, perhaps because it is such a basic assumption that no researchers thought it necessary to state something so fundamental, this is a “situation” which many followers could suggest is far too prevalent throughout global society and something this paper was written to address, or redress.
With most people in society being at their happiest making others happy, there are a minority who derive deep satisfaction from making others unhappy.
At its most basic, society needs leaders who are happy making others happy and not those who may be at their happiest when making others unhappy. Yet this is precisely what motivates too many managers and leaders within far too many of global society’s organisations, something which their co-workers are likely to fail to understand.
Society also needs leaders who find it easy to love and difficult to hate, rather then those who find it easy to hate and difficult if not impossible to love, anyone other than themselves, which also describes a minority of Disordered Leaders.
While this paper strongly argues such people should not be afforded the opportunity to become supervisors or team-leaders. let alone managers and leaders, incredibly (meaning hard to believe) far too many are permitted to reach seniority of position in far too many organisations, in every sector in every nation, with entirely inevitable and predictable consequences.
If only we better knew what to look for in advance, they could be denied the opportunity to do their best to make other people miserable and ensure that the highlight of their working day being going home.
Every leadership theory in some manner suggests the role of the leader is to motivate their people to achieve common goals, while none suggest their role is to bring out their worst traits, one of the goals of Disordered Leaders which many may also fail to comprehend.
Good Leaders do a great deal of of good. But those we should regard as Great Leaders do that little bit more, including having the ability to see the latent talents in those they are tasked with leading, want to see their potential fulfilled and contribute to this happening, knowing that not only do those individuals benefit personally and professionally, but so too does the group at large.
The Great Leader is perhaps the person who does inspire and guide great achievements, but does not want or need to be thought of as great themselves, indeed quite the contrary.
Leaders who need to believe they are great, may not be.
Leaders who need others to believe they are great, may not be.
Maybe those who actually are great, but don’t need to be reminded of this, will achieve far more, especially in terms of the enthusiasm and commitment of their followers, the foundations upon which really great achievements are built and without which mediocrity can be the norm.
No matter what leadership theory, style or approach is being discussed, if the only person who believes the leader is great is themselves, despite all the rational evidence to the contrary, they clearly are not, except in their peculiarly self-centred, difficult and proud mind, which may differ significantly from that of truly Great Leaders, especially those far more interested in those they lead than themselves, who they really want to be the best they can be, contributing to making their organisation the best it can be.
Great Women and the role of Vision and Change
When the Great Man theory was at its most popular, prior to the 20th century, the role of women in society was very much secondary to that of men, so the achievements of female leaders were discounted or ignored and leadership was perceived to be more of a male role.
One wonders what seems to have changed as society has in many other respects undoubtedly progressed? In many nations women play an equal role even if they have not yet progressed in sufficient numbers to senior managerial positions. In too many other nations women still play a very much subservient role to men in many respects, including some very fundamental aspects of day-to-day life.
If roles were reversed, how many men in such societies would find such scenarios acceptable, fair or just when denied the opportunity to be involved in making the decisions which affect them most and the freedom to live their lives in the same manner those of the opposite gender take for granted?
The cited characteristics of leaders were historically those most associated with “strong”, aggressive and highly competitive men, who were seen as assertive and decisive, indeed what some refer to as “Alpha Male”.
Many such people thrive on being competitive in almost every area of their lives, even when co-operation, collaboration, compromise and teamwork may have been more apt.
Their engaging in a variety of fear-based, intimidatory and demotivational behaviours somehow led to such a managerial style becoming associated with “strength” of both character and leadership, rather than counterproductive and indeed counterintuitive when one of the primary roles of leaders as well as managers is widely accepted to be motivational. Psychiatrists and psychologists could well diagnose the related behaviors to be due a “personality disorder” and thus a fundamental character flaw, not a strength rather a weakness, as many victims of their bullying could attest.
Whether these were the characteristics that made for an effective leader, or rather were those associated with “leadership” because these were the kind of people who wanted most to be leaders and would do anything it took to achieve their ambition, irrespective of the consequences for others or the success of their organisation is open to interpretation. Compared with quite the opposite more constructive behavior, the discouraging and fearful nature of intimidatory behavior is more likely to be deemed to be ineffective if not outright destructive, especially in terms of interpersonal relations and motivation.
This is especially when this type of person perceived themselves to be more important than the organisation they were supposed to be setting an admirable example for and motivating everyone else to produce their best towards achieving common goals.
For too many such people this was just not their concern. Once they had achieved their goal of a senior managerial or even leadership role, although capable of giving the impression of being interested in the organization, they weren’t, only themselves.
No wonder so many organizations and their people fail to fulfill their potential when some leaders are so full of their own importance that they choose to discourage and diminish those they are supposed to be inspiring. When they get a thrill out of being aggressive and making other people fearful of them, which they believe contributes to respect, they fail to appreciate the degree of discomfort and disrespect which this actually engenders given their probable emotional shallowness or coldness.
Perhaps the degree of the aggression they displayed determined whether these typically male traits led to a highly competitive environment, with colleagues believing they had to be combative with each other to make progress, especially when they could describe the “culture” as being typified by blame and fear, most associated with what former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan referred to as “macho leaders”.
They can display severe mood swings, ups and down and intense reactions, which may seem rapid, exaggerated and disproportionate to the circumstances, described by psychologists as “emotional lability”. Their behaviour and emotional responses may appear to others to be easily triggered, impulsive, unstable and potentially even dangerous, causing (unnecessary) distress to others who have to “walk on eggshells” and adapt how they deal with their “emotional incontinence”.
The fact that those lacking emotions which most people possess have been shown to so readily (perhaps innately and unwittingly) engage in high levels of pathological lying and deceit, cunning manipulation and egocentric, callous and impulsive behaviour, characterised by a lack of responsibility, empathy and remorse, are also well versed in using their charm, confidence and arrogance to hide their true traits even from experienced psychologists poses many challenges for society, especially when we allow such people drive our organisations and entities down roads inevitably leading to chaos and disharmony rather than aspiring to genuinely collective progress based on harmony and co-operation.
Perhaps one of our greatest challenges is to “see through” such challenging people and no longer employ, promote and elect them to positions for which they are so fundamentally unsuitable, displaying what psychologists term “consistent irresponsibility”, capable of routinely acting against the common good and doing so with what they describe as “emotional impunity”.
No matter how well they manage to disguise their true inner coldness, eventually their maltreatment of others, allied to the degree of lies, deceipt, manipulation and character assassination they engage in does become noticed.
No matter how subtle they try to be (not usually their strength) eventually the absolute degree of their self-centredness and necessity to control can no longer be masked by their skin-deep charisma.
No longer should those who bring out the worst in other people, who derive their own happiness from damaging the happiness of others and who can even be unhappy seeing people happy with others (in any walk of life), ever be given responsibility for managing or leading people, given their inability to constructively manage their own emotions let alone those of others.
Yet society continues to choose such (possibly “disordered”) people for senior positions, despite their track record throughout human history being truly abysmal. Just like one of their greatest cognitive inabilities, do we never seem to learn?
In the short video link below, former UN Secretary General and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Kofi Annan addresses the key question whether leadership is all about the individual leaders themselves – as leadership is perceived by takers (being more interested in themselves than others) who he describes as “macho” – or the welfare of the people they are tasked with serving – as leadership is perceived by givers (being more interested in others than themselves)? Kofi Annan on “Macho Leaders” – BBC Tribute 18th August 2018
“Leadership is not about the individual. When you have macho leaders who believe they have to shine and it all has to be about them, forgetting that what is required is the welfare of society and the people they serve”… And previously he said that: Ethical leaders are those “…who strive to do what is right; who also realise that the power they hold in the office that they occupy is not something personal. It is something they hold in trust for the people…” His family also commented: “Whenever there was suffering or need, he reached out and touched many people with his deep compassion and empathy… He selflessly placed others first, radiating genuine kindness, warmth and brilliance in all he did”. Kofi Annan – Full Family Statement BBC Tribute 18th August 2018
When leaders respect other people, treat them fairly and behave selflessly with integrity, showing a genuine interest in everyone else involved, sometimes referred to as “stakeholders”, the critical quality of trust is more likely to be developed, enhanced and remain healthy.
But when their focus is primarily and innately on themselves, there may well always be trouble around the corner, with trust and even reputation amongst the many casualties of their disrespect and resulting mis-management, erroneously described as their “leadership” of businesses, organisations and even nations.
Less overtly aggressive (and perhaps more empathetic) male leaders could well engender a more collaborative and even collegiate culture, with executives and employees engaging in a great deal of cooperation as they seek to work together, rather than against each other, which can not only be the outcome of macho leadership, but even one of their personal ambitions – to see managers engaging in overt or covert combat with each other rather than working together to achieve common goals.
It is in such environments that women believed that they too had to be aggressive, competitive and domineering if they wanted to achieve seniority of position. Indeed it was such women who were either naturally competitive or learned how to become more aggressive that seemed to break through the barriers posed by all-male management teams, given that the belief was that leadership was or is a predominantly Male prerogative
That was the thinking in the 19th Century when the Great Man Theory was formulated and it could be argued that in many respects little seems to have changed, given the huge number of women playing successful managerial roles throughout society, indeed in many cases perhaps the majority of managerial and supervisory roles.
Yet the paucity of women who have broken through the “glass ceiling” to become members of the most senior team or actually lead their organisations and nations could appear to the outsider to be an extraordinary anomaly.
This is all the more extraordinary given that women are often seen to be better at co-operative rather than combative management, building bridges rather than unnecessarily damaging relationships purely to show who is boss, building consensus rather than engaging in “divide and conquer” and sharing power and information rather than trying to keep both for themselves.
Indeed women’s more innate traits better match the more modern managerial and leadership thought which considers the importance of building emotional bonds between colleagues, showing an interest in the people they lead and empowering them to produce their best.
Women are often seen to be better at encouragement – or caring, sharing and asking – while the most macho men are more expert at being assertive, dominant, commanding, ordering, even bullying, and ultimately at discouragement and demotivation, all quite counterproductive in that people will do what they are told to do but may not really feel that they want to do it when they have been treated with disrespect, disinterest and maybe even derision.
Yet many descriptions and theories of leadership stress the critical role of motivation, which seldom happens when the boss is far more interested in himself than those he is tasked with leading and treats people with contempt, aspects of mis- management and mal-leadership more associated with men than women.
Although it is human nature that anyone in any situation responds better to being asked politely to do something, with the task being well explained to them, why it is necessary and how it fits into the big picture, too many managers and leaders still believe it necessary to engage in some form of intimidation as they try to persuade people to perform the tasks they want done. This is an aspect of human nature far too prevalent in management which is usually quite unnecessary except perhaps when people consistently fail to perform the role expected and do not put their best effort into the task, but it does give the intimidatory manager a thrill in seeing subordinates fearful of them, attributes more associated with men than women.\Indeed why are more aggressive and competitive people, arrogant and proud, chosen over the more cooperative and modest?
With followers generally accepted to better respond to leaders who give them their respect and show a genuine interest in them, who generally engage in far more praise and encouragement than criticism and discouragement, why are so few women employed in and promoted to the most senior roles, despite they possessing more of the traits associated with successfully motivating people, especially greater emotional rather than purely cognitive empathy and a more natural and innate concern for the interests, needs and indeed feelings of those they are tasked with leading?
Social psychology research suggests that groups of people often tend to choose new members quite similar to themselves, whether this be gender, race, educational or societal background or whatever traits or demographics make up their common denominators, trends more likely to be broken by more courageous or visionary leaders, especially those less accepting of long-standing status quos who are constantly seeking better ways of doing whatever they do.
Groups composed predominantly of men may be more disposed to adding more men to their grouping than women and of course vice versa, which is why throughout most of my career I have proposed that decision-makers either ignore or look beyond gender to other characteristics and abilities when hiring or promoting.
With women considered to possess more empathy than men, the deficit of women as members of senior management teams or Boards of Directors, or their equivalent elsewhere in society, may be all the more surprising and perhaps a major societal error, especially given the number of male leaders who are not only perceived to be ruth-less, but actually admired for being cold and uncaring, even if those who cross their paths are less likely to applaud them for their less admirable traits.
Many of the most creative suggestions I have heard during my career have come from those who somehow were different or a minority from the mainstream, most notably women. For instance while serving on a committee of senior chartered accountants, some of the most apt observations came from the two members of the team who were not professional accountants – a partner in a legal practice and the former head of a government department. Their ability to see matters from a different perspective often proved invaluable as we considered issues which could impact on our entire profession or the future members – our students.
The ability to “see things differently” from the group at large is important and does not require the person to be visibly different, just possess a more “progressive” mindset, which at its best could even be seen to be “visionary”. Their vision just happens to be clearer, less short-sighted and better equipped to imagine the future rather than be stuck in the past.
To those who have a tendency towards worry, especially due to matters that have already happened, I often ask them “what did you do yesterday?”. When they describe this I then ask them to “change this”! When they say that they can’t I suggest “all we can change is today and tomorrow, so move on from the past and build on your good and bad experiences to make your today and tomorrows better”. Apart from the fact I suggest that “worrying about something beyond your control is counterproductive, so don’t”, if being concerned about a matter you can actually do something about results in change for the better, it may serve a useful purpose.
The key point is that people or groups which remain stuck in the past, especially as others are evolving, may result in them being left behind. Whatever it takes to start changing is worth contemplating, including seeking opinions from or even employing or promoting those who are not members of whatever majority the group consists of, including people of the opposite gender or with experiences gained with different groups, including women in predominantly or traditionally male organisations.
This particularly applies to organisations who only tend to seek new hires amongst those who have already worked in their particular industry sector, perhaps one of the least visionary decisions an organisation will ever take. People with bright minds adapt quickly to new scenarios (and industries) and can bring a wealth of knowledge and ideas from other perspectives which could be lost or foregone when the ambition is limited to “more of the same”.
Consider all the organisations who hired a new CEO from a totally different industry and made rapid progress, especially when the new leader was able to view many matters from a different perspective from the prevailing group. So why does this not apply lower down the organisational hierarchy too?
With the industry sector people work in often determined initially by chance, many talented people are never afforded the opportunity to try other fields of endeavour to which they may be well or even better suited, purely due to the limited imagination of too many “safety first” employers.
The same can apply to gender and race. If half the world is women and many organisations sell their products and services both to men and women, nor solely to people of the same gender as the management team, why are so many of the senior management teams predominantly male? Why are so few people from a different ethnic background from whatever the prevailing majority may be not members of senior management, especially if many of the customers or clients are from such a background?
That is why I argue that the Great Leader both sees and treats everyone the same – with respect – irrespective of class, gender, nationality, race, language, age, prior industry experience or whatever other reason more limited managers and leaders use as an excuse, either not to hire somebody or not to promote them to the most senior levels within their organisation.
With many of the leadership theories advocating Vision as one of the most desirable traits, this can go far beyond seeing and persuading others how great the entity could be as it evolves, but to also see in every person their innate abilities, talents, personality and potential and then recruit and promote accordingly, irrespective of whether they may be men or women. It is such decisions which can lead to the entity making more rapid progress than it might otherwise have.
The group which keeps choosing the same type of new member is likely to remain just that – the same.
The group which keeps choosing people who favour the status quo is more likely to be bypassed by those who do not. That is one of the beauties of competition.
While I argue that excessively combative competition – both within and between organisations – can be counterproductive if it engenders unnecessary conflict between coworkers or an outright war between organisations, which may damage both from prioritizing win-lose over win-win, undoubtedly fair and open competition has many benefits, especially if it results in improvements which may not otherwise have arisen.
Considering the number of businesses that do not survive one generation, say thirty years, questions need to be asked about how they were managed or led and whether they stuck to “the way we have always done things”.
Perhaps those who survived longer were managed and led by those with the interest and ability to see what was happening elsewhere, seek opinions and advice which differed from their own, while also employing and promoting those different from themselves in mindset and gender.
The really progressive organisations, so called because they have a track record of doing just that – making progress – choose their people based on a combination of talent, ability, personality including enthusiasm and experience, and most certainly not gender, race or any obviously physical trait.
This paper strongly advocates hiring and promoting “constructive” people and firing or not promoting “destructive” people, but nowhere does it mention whether these be men or women.
Although there are undoubtedly far too many intimidatory men in charge of too many departments, organisations and even nations with quite predictable consequences, of course women can be bullies too and when they rise to the top their personality traits can be just as damaging for both everyone else involved and their organisation.
In many respects the principles associated with management of (a) business and other organisations and entities, (b) families and (c) sporting teams and clubs (amongst other such groupings) are remarkably similar, with employees, spouses and children as well as athletes better responding to encouragement than discouragement.
With many children (boys and girls) best responding to their warm mothers rather than their cold fathers (and vice versa), while building better longer term and indeed lifelong relationships with their more empathetic, progressive and constructive (even visionary) parent, why are so many managerial and leadership positions still apparently chosen on gender grounds rather then the abilities and talents of the candidates?
With managers and leaders being tasked with responsibility for the working lives and emotions of many other people, especially those who are expected to perform the work in the direction they deem necessary, why are so many managers chosen for such roles who are incapable of successfully managing and controlling even their own emotions?
Why are so many people incapable of setting the admirable example desired by subordinates and advocated by leadership theories appointed to seniority of position for which they are fundamentally ill-equipped?
At its most basic, why are so many cruel and mean men (and some such women) chosen over many kind and generous women (and men) for senior roles throughout global society?
Why are “tough” women disrespected when too many are not chosen for senior roles (by men) because they are “not tough enough”?
Of course “being decisive” when required is a critical ability needed by managers and leaders, especially when accompanied by the ability to weigh up the options and consequences which may arise from situations, sometimes rapidly. As women have often been seen to be well capable of taking astute decisions in the home environment, why is “being decisive” still associated with being a predominantly male ability and prerogative?
If the requirement were instead “being decisive and considerate of the consequences for both people and organisation/nation”, would men really still be more frequently selected over women?
With emotional intelligence being one of the many differences between “constructive” and “destructive” people and their personalities, and those lacking in it as capable of doing as much harm as good, for people and organisation or nation, why are strengths like emotional warmth and empathy, kindness, compassion, generosity and a genuine interest in other people, which the leadership theories suggest people best respond to and are motivated by, not higher up on the list of factors those who assess people for hiring or promotion are tasked with considering, especially when these are qualities which throughout history have been more associated with women than men?
It surely is an anomaly that so many women are seen as being successful in supervisory and middle-management roles, but are overlooked (by men) for the most senior positions requiring greater responsibility, especially when some of those “tougher” (and colder) men chosen instead are amongst the most irresponsible in society.
The organisation which requires its newest members of senior management to be “tough and ruthless” is probably led by the wrong type of person or people, although if this is how their followers best describe them, as well as “arrogant and unapproachable”, they may be the last to see this for themselves, even when alerted to this by others.
When I have asked CEOs “would you like the word ‘ruthless’ engraved on your tombstone?” they have often been speechless.
Maybe society better needs ruth-full rather than ruth-less managers and leaders, whether they be men or women?
How many women have been responsible for huge corporate collapses, especially from seeking significant reward without sufficiently evaluating and minimizing risk?
For some of the men who were responsible, notably those who failed to accept responsibility, not even after their organisation had collapsed with many people’s lives adversely affected did they realize what they had done wrong. In their (blinkered) eyes, nothing. Everyone and anything else was to blame, as was the case throughout their lives every time they made a mistake or did something wrong.
No wonder the corporate cultures they engender are based on blame and fear, not something advocated by any of the leadership theories. They are Great though at introducing and developing conflict, destroying confidence, diminishing cooperation, demolishing trust and damaging reputation.
Perhaps it was such emotionally deficient men who chose not-so-great-men over potentially-great-women for senior positions from which they really could have made a difference, but were denied the opportunity?
We will never know, especially if the organisation did not live much longer (relatively speaking) itself.
It too may be buried in the graveyard of redundant businesses and organisations which never evolved, alongside the graves of their “ruthless” leaders for which “much loved and missed” would not even have been contemplated to be engraved on the tomb of those “destructive leaders” who ultimately were far more interested in themselves than those they mis-led.
When the engraving says “he did it his way” because doing it “my way” was so important to him, he may have lacked the vision to seek and act on the opinions and advice of people just a little different from him, whether age, gender, race, background, nationality or anything else he noticed and thought important to diminish them by, matters which many far more astute and “constructive” leaders didn’t and don’t, because they value people from all backgrounds and see their differences as assets to be appreciated and availed of fruitfully, not liabilities to be disrespected and diminished.
But when people are chosen for positions at all levels within organisations purely on merit based on their abilities and strengths of (lively not dull) personalities, depth of (genuine) charisma, (infectious) enthusiasm for the tasks at hand as well as a greater interest in others than themselves, including a genuine interest in all the people the organisation employs.
For employees at all levels to be the most motivated they need to believe that anyone from any background has the opportunity to eventually on merit become a member of the most senior management team. When the current senior managers and leaders possess a passion to see them become the best they can be based on a plethora of warm emotions, the organisation which benefits just might evolve to survive or live well beyond the current generation, especially when they visibly practice inclusion rather than exclusion. This can be as basic as a senior manager seeking opinions and suggestions from those who actually do perform much of the day to day work and service those who the organisation could not exist or grow without – their customers.
Those senior managers who live in their ivory towers far removed from the daily service which brings in the sales revenues would do well to be reminded what Peter Drucker said was the purpose of business – to create and retain a customer. He certainly did not say the purpose of business was to create and retain senior managers who were so out of touch with reality that they believed it acceptable to laud themselves and discriminate against minority groups and people different from themselves, most notably women, a situation that exists and prevails in far too many organisations in every possible sector of global business.
Those that do survive beyond the current generation are more likely to have recognized that as far as leadership is convened, all the talents and intelligence in the world are of little real value, if none of them are emotional.
This form of intelligence excludes ruthlessness and includes empathy, factors often better associated with women than men, as those organisations with the vision or wisdom to include many women in senior managerial roles well know. Yet given how few they can be, both women in senior roles and organisations so employing them, this seems to be a secret they keep all to themselves.
Perhaps this is because they want to become Great organisations and deny their male-only led competitors this opportunity to broaden their horizons and benefit from the creativity, perception, intuition and other traits which many women are well capable of contributing, if only they were afforded the opportunity which many more visionary men recognized as a necessity many years ago and which their entire entity profited from in many respects well beyond the merely financial.
Isn ‘t it extraordinary that there are so many entities worldwide that half the world’s population are excluded from (or rarely considered for) senior roles for which their empathy and other qualities may make them even better suited than the other half?
There are even some global organisations with the most admirable mission statements based on their initial leader’s inspirational and motivational teaching and practices based on inclusion and certainly not exclusion, who facing increasingly significant staff shortages because of an ageing workforce and too few younger new recruits, yet feature men ruling out women from employment, although they have performed a not unrelated role admirably for centuries, because “we have always done things this way”, even when they didn’t.
If a management consultant were asked to consider such a matter, one wonders would the response be to consider opening their eyes and recruitment to consider change rather than tradition (as most great organisations and leaders innately do, even without crises) and choose people on merit, not gender?
Indeed if the consultants examined, as they do, what their closest competitors employment and work practices are, if they were to report that women had been playing a comparable role without any noticeable drop in service levels, or even improvement, what would the response be as they have to close more and more of their premises because there are insufficient staff to “man” them?
There are even some organisations which throughout their history have had so many “reforming leaders” that a management consultant would have to enquire why this was so necessary, especially when they would still seem to be in great need of change for the better?
If the noun “crisis” comes from the Latinised form of the Greek word “krisis”, meaning “turning point in a disease”, the critical moment when the person with the disease could get better or worse, one wonders when the disease of appointing people purely on grounds of gender (or race or nationality or social background or anything else which may be seen to be less relevant or irrelevant when more such people are included rather than excluded) will be found to be readily curable by leaders with imagination, courage and vision?
“Ostrich Leaders” with their heads buried in the sand have not been known to transform their organisations to the degree that they prevented themselves being passed out by their more creative and inventive competitors, as some survive and some die because they insisted on doing things “the way we have always done them”. RIP.
Comfort Zones are not places that Great Leaders inhabit, even if that is what some of their less imaginative employees prefer, those that rebel against change but have no real ideas for improvement themselves, other than maintenance of long-standing and miserably failed status quos.
While those who actively fight or even campaign against change may not be bad people per se or troublemakers by nature, indeed many are not, when they pose barriers to “constructive” progress they can be nearly as damaging to an organisation as those we describe as “destructive leaders”.
Insisting that “the way we have always done things” is better than any alternatives, no matter what they may be and whether they are given serious consideration or not, is a very human characteristic. Psychologists tell us this is a form of “cognitive bias” and neuroscientists explain as being part of the “habits” or mental short cuts which we have formed in our brain circuitry to save us having to expend significant energy learning something new every time we perform the same task.
Experienced managers and leaders know well how difficult change is to introduce and appreciate the importantce of inspiring people with amongst the two most important qualities any good employee posses – their imagination and enthusiasm – which allows them to share their vision about how great the future organisation could be allied to their enthusiasm or passion to explain this so well that everyone, whether with a traditional or more progressive mindset, all of whom contribute to the success of their entity as it evolves, becomes excited at joining their crusade for positive and constructive organisational change.
Just like the person that never changes can become staid, the organisation that never changes and sticks rigidly to many long standing status quos, which may have been appropriate at some time in the past, never evolves. It too can become staid. When it fails to excite the most dynamic and maybe charismatic employees, it is likely to come across similarly to customers with the option of taking their business elsewhere to organisations which better interest and excite them and satisfy their changing needs.
When the status quos prioritised the employees over the customers, treating some better than others and even excluding some totally from some of their products and services, they would seem to have forgotten the reason they were founded.
When the status quo featured some managers believing they were invincible and more important than other managers, employees and customers, especially when the mission statement advocated humility over pride, questions need to be asked why were they chosen or allowed to remain when their presence did more harm than good?
When some managers believed their internal rules were more important than society’s laws and thought covering up would benefit rather than damage “reputation”, only because they hoped no-one would find out about wrongdoing and whistleblowers who really cared were silenced, like many other such managers in many such organisation’s they discovered – too late – that trust and reputation are very hard to rebuild when (like their employees) they are disrespected and allowed to crash and burn, like the house built on foundations of sand. And what a fall they had.
Perhaps that is why Socrates likened trust and reputation to a fire – easy to keep kindled but difficult to relight when allowed to be extinguished. The only fire that such organisations need to be spreading like wildfire are the fires of change which need to spread so rapidly that no-one can extinguish them, especially as status quos and rules which have long served their purpose are burnt to cinders to be replaces by modern, progressive policies administered by people of every race, background… and gender.
Ultimately as many astute managers know, if people are commanded and ordered to do something, they will only half-heartedly do it, if at all, given that they generally respond far better to encouragement and reasoning why the task is important, if indeed it can still be justified on such grounds.
Likewise, Great Leaders have realised that people cannot be told to change, they need to be inspired to change and be involved in the process, not only for “buy-in” but also given they may have many useful ideas themselves, when included not excluded.
When those that benefit most from an organisation’s inability or refusal to change are its competitors, something really does need to change, while this actually remains an option.
Great Leaders ensure their organisation is constantly evolving and proactively prevent crises arising, rather than reacting so late to them that no-one ends up winning, whether ostriches or reformers.
The organization which consistently excludes is more likely to be bypassed or even taken over by its more imaginative and inclusive rivals, especially those who have learned the benefits of treating everyone – the same.
Perhaps we need to be more focussed on the common ground between people, organisations and nations, and be less concerned with inevitable differences (“them and us”) as one of the extraordinary facts of human life is that no two people are the same?
Another aspect of life is that every group seems to be believe that they are right and the others wrong and perceive themselves as being better than their rivals, even if not. Not everyone can be right and better and everyone should be capable of learning from others and adapting accordingly.
Great Leaders are perhaps those with the ability (and emotional intelligence) to not only wisely lead their own group and people, but also make efforts to understand other groups and their people, perhaps also considering that in some or many respects “they” may be right or better and “”us/we” may be wrong or not as effective as “we” could be, and so may actually be able to learn from “them”? Wouldn’t there be a great deal less disagreement and conflict and a great deal more agreement and compromise based on compromise and a “win-win” mindset if this were the case?
Certainly in situations involving discussions, negotiations and in due course compromise, when both parties take the view that “they may be right and we may be wrong” then mutually satisfactory progress may be far more achievable.
This may involve a great deal of empathy, kindness, consideration, a genuine interest in others and ability to forgive and move on, something which (by and large) women are more associated with than men, especially those who are somehow perceived to be “strong” because they are ruthless, seek conflict, hold grudges and engage in vendettas, which may give them personal satisfaction but does little for the group dynamic and may hinder constructive progress?
Of course some women can be as cruel as the most mean-hearted and ruthless men, perhaps sharing the same personality type but not gender, none of which are traits which make for “Constructive Leadership”, indeed quite the opposite, although such people of both genders will do anything it takes to reach the most senior position possible in the most lucrative industries, which will never make them effective managers and leaders despite their protestations to the contrary.
Should we not then be promoting and employing people based on skills, talent, and personality, especially enthusiasm and creativity, not gender?
As kindness, compassion, empathy, interest in other people and many related facets are those which for centuries and indeed millennia men have trusted women with to be devoted to their children and to successfully raise families, too often without sufficient male involvement, why are women trusted to use these skills and innate “people-oriented” talents at supervisory/team leader and junior/middle management level in so many organisations, where they may be the majority of people performing such roles, yet so few are “included” and trusted to bring these very same and much need abilities to the senior management team?
Is it because there may be a fallacy that to take tough decisions when required the decision makers themselves need to be tough and indeed ruthless? Not so. Very kind people are well capable of taking tough decisions, once they are the right ones and have been properly evaluated.
Might this fallacy explain so many optimal decisions which could have been made better when those with more empathy were involved in the decision-making process, capable of assessing matters from the perspective of all the stakeholders affected?
Inclusion beats exclusion any day.
Is it because any group, whatever they may be, are more comfortable with people they see as being similar to themselves than those who in some way are different?
Is this why so many employers seek people who have already worked in their industry sector before, rather than those who can bring fresh ideas from other areas of life, thus potentially losing out on people who may be very creative, enthusiastic and dynamic and bring something new to their entity?
Is this why so many people when hiring seek people with prior experience (such as “management experience”) rather than evaluating the personality of the candidate and seeing that the bright, enthusiastic person sitting across the table from them may have great potential, even if there may be something they may not have done before but could so easily learn? Are people really that conservative and unimaginative?
Is this why so many men in senior roles keep employing men rather than choosing people purely on merit?
All such situations require a “vision” and degree of “courage to be different” that too few people in important roles seem to possess, which may well explain why so many organisations will always remain modest performers given that they may be closed to new ideas and to the people who may bring them.
Could this lack of “vision” and degree of “courage to be different” apply to those of one gender (or nationality or race or industry experience or whatever) who seem dedicated to “maintaining the status quo” no matter how outdated it may be and hence keep trying to do more of the same and employing or promoting more of the same?
If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.
What does ignoring half the world’s population (especially in sectors of life such as religious where the number of qualified candidates is diminishing) actually achieve?
Would understanding of the organisation’s “stakeholders” including those it was founded to serve, and thus potentially better descision-making, not be facilitated by the gender (and race and nationality) balance or make-up within all the levels of the organisation being more reflective of its “customer base”?
There are few organisations today whose products and services are exclusively sold to men, yet many whose senior management teams are almost exclusively male.
All decision-makers could benefit from a fresh perspective and different viewpoints if they are not to keep making the same type of decisions, ultimately to the benefit of their more progressive competitors, who eventually their customers or clients may migrate or move to.
The organisation which fails to change dies even if it survives, lacking the imagination to inspire its best people to produce their best, so stays in second gear while its rivals overtake them in the fast lane of continual improvement and progress. It is such rivals with more progressive hiring and promotional policies which better reflect their customer-base and which are less conservative which are more likely to be constantly seeking areas for improvement which actually will do just that – improve – especially once they learn from the mistakes they will inevitably make on the way.
Why is it that the status quo is favoured by so many people and organisations?
Who benefits from the maintenance of long-standing status quos? If it is the “competitors” then the management really needs to have a hard look at itself and see what their competitors may be doing that they aren’t.
Should the “insiders” who maintain the status quos be asked to evaluate how they and the organisation at large may actually benefitting from them? Or is it just that they find it easier and more comfortable to continue doing things “the way we have always done things”?
With Peter Drucker observing that “the purpose of business is to attract and retain a customer”, and too many organisations (not just businesses) putting far more effort into attracting than retaining, do organisations need to consider how attractive they may appear to be to those they are trying to attract and retain, especially when they are failing to do either?
Should the” insiders” who prefer the status quo be asked to evaluate whether the organisation is being successful at attracting new customers and employees or retaining those they already have? And if not, what may ned to change?
What role might the neuroscience of people forming habits with which they are more comfortable with play in such matters? What makes those who “strive to be different” different? Might they possess a degree of creativity and vision to see how great their entity could be that others just lack? Is that then not what progressive employers should be seeking in their candidates for promotion or hiring of whatever gender?
At the end of the day no matter the topic – gender, race, nationality, age, industry or managerial experience, qualifications, et al – inclusion beats exclusion, hands down, any day.
Would a policy of “treating everyone the same” and “with the respect you would like to be treated yourself” not be more effective and better contribute to organisational progress and success, by way of retaining and attracting great people as both employees and customers, especially when such progressive policies facilitate the best people possible filling the positions for which they are best suited?
Is this not preferable to they being ignored on grounds that may have had some validity in a bygone age but may no longer be appropriate?
Surely an aspiration of trying to help each and every one of its employees “become the best they can be” is likely to contribute to the organisation itself “becoming the best it can be”?
Not though if it ignores vast groups of people who could potentially make a huge contribution if only they were included rather than excluded?
If the primary argument is “we have always done things this way” could that really stand up to rational debate, especially in an era of improved communications and rapid change across so many fronts – other than gender and race balance?
Perhaps some day we may even discuss the Great Women Theory and have to advocate that organisations involve more men at senior levels?
Or should it make any difference what gender, age, nationality or race the leaders, managers and employees are, once they are equipped and motivated to responsibly, constructively and maybe even passionately perform the role expected of them?
Julian Martin Clarke 2013-2021