It may be our definition of leadership that destroys organizations
What if our definition of leadership was wrong all along? And if it’s really wrong, what harm does it do to those who want to step into a leadership role?
“Leaders are part of a huge barrier to change,” said Dr Maja Korica. “This idea of charismatic leadership is completely irrelevant to me.”
Korica is Associate Professor of Management and Organization at Warwick Business School, University of Warwick. His research focuses on understanding complex and rarely seen organizational contexts, in addition to executive management and leadership in practice.
Korica thinks many senior leaders believe in the adage, “I worked hard to get to this level; now you should work harder than me to succeed. With such a mindset, leaders consciously (or perhaps unconsciously) embrace a philosophy that work must become central to life in order to thrive.
For example, if the aspiring leader does not focus all of their time and thus devotes their centrality to “work,” senior managers may ignore them for promotion or new assignments. In many organizations, this is precisely how succession planning works.
When the institution of work becomes the primary mechanism for meaning in life—as demonstrated by leaders who exhibit traits of workaholism or presenteeism—the result becomes a larger set of environmental constraints that preclude any chance of having a place. more caring and humanistic work.
A case in point is the rather infamous example of Jamie Dimon, chairman and CEO of America’s largest bank, JPMorgan Chase. Dimon said in 2021 that he wanted employees to return exclusively to the office rather than working from home because “it doesn’t work for young people.”
“It doesn’t work for those who want to hustle. It doesn’t work for the culture,” Dimon said.
It is this example that permeates many leaders around the world. If you’re young and don’t push yourself – hours of work no matter what – you won’t succeed.
Ultimately, leaders have a moral duty, which is a responsibility to others, to those they serve. “What can you do to create better conditions for others to thrive? Korica said.
The individual biases of senior leaders are then propagated by larger trends in society that hold back many workers. One could align this with the fundamental attribution error of a leader, as Korica suggests.
She alluded to an example with Best Buy. The organization was once a proud and successful example of the Results Only Work Environment (ROWE) model. Unfortunately, it was quickly canceled in 2013 by a new CEO. Korica believes the company’s new CEO had to signal to the market a “downward responsibility”. As a result, ROWE has become a victim despite evidence showing huge increases in productivity, engagement, customer satisfaction, etc.
What is clear is that CEOs and senior leaders operate from separate locations than the typical team member. As you move up the ranks, leaders drift away from the reality of the organization. “You are also fundamentally different from other people,” Korica said, “but due to a fundamental attribution error, leaders are unaware of this ridiculously flawed view of people’s reality.”
When the concepts of passion, restlessness, and the importance of ego overshadow the need for dignity, balance, and care, organizations fall prey to disengagement or attrition.
Korica points to another example with Goldman Sachs. How do newbie bankers learn poor judgment, inauthentic leadership skills, and a hard-working mindset? “It’s because of what they’re watching senior bankers,” she said. This is perhaps a concrete example of Martin Seligman’s concept known as learned helplessness: when employees feel they have no control over their situation, they may begin to behave helplessly. (Or, in this case, as horrible employees.)
Not only do we have to worry about leaders of organizations who exacerbate poor leadership practices, but the mainstream and commercial media also continue to portray “famous leaders” in ways that glorify many negative characteristics.
Korica underscores the guilt of the media by their repeated use of so-called “ideational roles”. “These traditional, aggressive, masculine views of who these men are is what dominates the press,” she said. “This label of entrepreneurship gives them a very distinct positive notion.”
These types of leaders enjoy positive public associations with the word contractor. Korica suggests he then allows terms like poaching, public taking, not paying taxes, using size to shut down smaller competitors to help justify to others what it means to be a successful entrepreneur.
“When good ideas are associated with famous entrepreneurs, it becomes a way to justify bad behavior by those leaders,” she said.
Young people will then look to these famous leaders or entrepreneurs as role models. Positive association becomes the complete opposite of what employees and team members want – or perhaps need – from their leaders.
“It’s hard to have classroom conversations with my students,” she said, “because the cult of leadership justifies a way to allow morally questionable action because these entrepreneurs appear to be successful.”
The workaholic, indifferent, aggressive and utterly out of touch leader ends up presenting a non-progressive mythological entrepreneur based on a mistaken understanding. Said Korica, “To whom do we give pedestals and for what reasons?”
“Leadership is about action, not pomp,” Korica remarked. “By making the elites look good, we are poisoning the pool.”
Indeed, if we cannot reset what it means to be a leader, there will be problems for years to come, pandemic or not.
Watch the interview with Dr. Maja Korica in full below or listen to the podcast here.
Check out my bookLead. Care. To earn. How to become a leader who matters.” Thinkers50 #1 ranked thinker, Amy. C. Edmondson of Harvard Business School calls it “an invaluable roadmap.”