Bernard Bass (2008) writes, “Successful leaders share values with those they lead” (p. 197). Unintentionally, the author has identified an aspect of the problem: leaders who model immaturity and limited self-awareness breed immature and unconscious values in their followers. Conversely, many leaders attempt to manipulate their followers by researching their values, and pretending to share these values. Billions of dollars are spent annually to analyze the political climate. Bass says, “To be politically successful in the United States a leader must emphasize the value of individualism.” Again, he unconsciously points to the problem: Individualism may not, in fact, be an authentic value to a particular political leader, but the role of political leader demands a superficial adjustment away from authenticity. Just as the engineer who was an artistic child who abandoned the paintbrush after a parental enticement to “be more practical”, leadership can entice and reward the ability to be inauthentic.
My father warned away from leadership saying, “Don’t climb the ladder, you are a better target up there and you could fall”. That advice (as well as most of his other suggestions) was ignored in favor of personal research. As a leader, this writer has experienced (and observed in other leaders) the full range of success and disaster. Often, there was divergence from personal values in pursuit of perceived success that preceded failure. Projections from followers can be strong in both positive and negative directions and the need (for perceived survival purposes) to manipulate follower opinion can be strong enough to make a leader abdicate personal values.
The tendency to avoid feelings and personal expression is understandable. Many of us were taught to avoid vulnerability at all cost. The feminine version is “be nice” and the masculine version is “be tough”. Both can be equally inauthentic and are a result of an attempt to please a parental figure (and subsequently superiors or followers). The masculine directive is probably linked to the toughness that is necessary in battle. In describing the warrior model of leadership, Bass (2008) writes, “The means justifies the ends for [the warrior leader], even if they must resort to deception, betrayal, violence, and other morally questionable acts” (p. 49). However, when life and death is not the issue, the avoidance of integrity and emotional honesty is a cop-out of significant proportion.
Considerable research points to the higher performance abilities of executives with emotional intelligence attributes and especially with the ability to be genuine and vulnerable. In a 25 year study of executive leadership, Goffee and Jones (2000) identify vulnerability as the most important quality for effective leaders, writing, “Inspirational leaders selectively show their weaknesses. By exposing some vulnerability, they reveal their approachability and humanity. Exposing weakness establishes trust and thus helps get folks on board.”
As authenticity increases, leadership becomes more genuine, and although the path may be painful, this writer believes the resulting deepening of life experience is worth the effort. The unexamined life may or may not be worth living, but now that it has been revealed that profit and productivity is being affected, perhaps there is a wake-up call on the horizon of leadership values.
Bass, B. M. (2008). The Bass handbook of leadership: Theory, research, and managerial applications (4th ed.). New York: Free Press.
Blatner, A. (2000) Foundations of Psychodrama: History, theory and practice, (4th ed.). New York: Springer.
Blattner, J., & Bacigalupo, A. (2007). Using emotional intelligence to develop executive leadership and team and organizational development. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, 59(3), 209-219.
Bradberry, T., & Greaves, J. (2003). The emotional intelligence quickbook. San Diego, CA: Talentsmart.
Goffee, R., & Jones, G., (2000). Why should anyone be led by you. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from: http://hbswk.hbs.edu/archive/1710.html
Kilburg, R. (2004). When shadows fall: Using psychodynamic approaches in executive coaching. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, 56(4), 246-268.
King, S., Nicol, D. M. (1999), Organizational enhancement through recognition of individual spirituality: Reflections of Jaques and Jung. Journal of Organizational Change Management, 12(3), 234-243.