The Two Kinds Of "Leaders" That Destroy Organizations

“A leader is never ‘energy-neutral.’ You are either giving people energy or you are sapping it from them.”
Noel M. Tichy

Since 1997, the Gallup organization has studied the responses of more than 3 million employees who have participated in their 12-question survey. Based on this enormous amount of data, Gallup concluded … that while people JOIN companies … they LEAVE managers.

In their best-selling book, “First, Break All The Rules,” Buckingham and Coffman took it one step further. They said, “We have discovered the manager — not pay, benefits, perks, or a charismatic corporate leader — was the critical player in building a strong work force.”

Bottom line … supervisors, managers, leaders … whatever you call them … are not “energy-neutral.” And Richard H. Lenny, the Chairman and CEO of Hershey Foods, affirms that. Lenny says, “We can create energy, or we can sap energy out of our people and out of our organization.”

That being the case, how exactly does a leader sap his people’s energy? I find that just about all of the energy sappers fall into one of two categories: They’re ignorant or they’re arrogant.

Jack Stack, one of the more insightful, revolutionary leaders of the last 20 years, the CEO of Springfield Remanufacturing, points that out. In fact, when I was conducting my 5-day Executive Leadership Forums for CEO’s, I often hired Jack to address the other CEO’s. Jack says, “Two things will kill a company, ignorance or arrogance. You can live with one, but if you have both, get your resume out.”

Let’s examine those two key energy sappers.

=> 1. The leader who is ignorant.

Educator Dan B. Alexander says, “A leader’s first calling is to grow, knowing that he is the one who has the furthest distance to mature.”

He’s right. A leader can’t expect her people to grow if she isn’t growing. After all, she sets the tone. She leads by example.

And yet, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve spoken in an organization where the leader comes in for the first few minutes of my program … and then leaves. Whether she knows it or not, she sends the message that she doesn’t need to know what is being taught … or has more important things to do.

And does her leaving make a difference? You bet. It mystifies, confuses, or even angers the program attendees.

One of the most frequent comments on my program evaluation form is something along the lines of … “This was a great seminar, but WHO REALLY NEEDS to hear this stuff is my boss … or our managers … or our entire leadership team.”

In essence, the program attendees are saying, “My boss … or our leaders … are ignorant. They’re not as good as they think they are. They still have a lot to learn.” And as one person noted, “Foolish are the generals who ignore the daily intelligence from the trenches.”

The sad truth is … too many leaders stop learning. And that’s even true of some educational leaders … who should know better. After all, they’re in the learning business. But as noted scholar Dr. Roland Barth notes, “We routinely ask our children, ‘What did you learn at school today?’ I think it every bit as important to ask ourselves, ‘What did I learn in school today?'”

So go ahead and do it right now. If you’re a leader of any sort, ask yourself what YOU learned today. If you’re not sure, or if you’re teammates don’t see much evidence of your learning, your sapping the energy out of them. They see ignorance, and ignorance is never a very inspiring example to follow.

And the second energy sapper comes from…

=> 2. The leader who is arrogant.

Scott Lutz, now CEO and President of 8th Continent in the soy milk market business, has won many confrontations in his corporate marketing career. However, the battle he most remembers is the one in which he learned that leaders need to think about more than defeating their opponents.

Long ago in eighth grade, Lutz had a teacher he respected and wanted to impress. In a classroom debate monitored by this teacher, Lutz defeated and humiliated his opponent and expected praise from his mentor.

However, the teacher took him aside and taught him something else. He told Lutz he was disappointed in him. He said how you win means as much as the fact you did win.

Furthermore, his teacher went on to say, your intellect and verbal skill can propel you to the front of the line. But the only way you’ll persuade people to follow you is to use your talents with compassion.

It may sound corny, but as the old saying goes, “If you lack tact, no one buys your act.” There’s a lot more to being a boss than being bossy.

Of course, no “leader” would ever admit to being arrogant. They may emphatically deny their arrogance or may even be unaware of it. But everyone else sees it.

So what are some of the tell-tale signs of arrogant leadership?

* A love of power.

Of course, it feels good to be in control. It helps you get things done, but power can be a destructive force if you’re not careful. As business broker Marshall G. Bryant puts it, “When your love of authority exceeds your sense of responsibility, your leadership is in jeopardy — and so is the organization you lead.”

By contrast, effective leaders go beyond their love of power. They do more than tell other people what to do. They pitch in. As telecommunications executive Harold Geneen points out, “I don’t believe in just ordering people to do things. You have to sort of grab an oar and row with them.”

Another sign of arrogant leadership is…

* Taking too much of the credit.

Boy is that ever common. Go back and watch the old Melanie Griffith movie called “Working Girl” and see how her boss took too much of the credit. Or take a look at some of the “research” coming out of the universities these days. Quite often the students do the research, but the professor publishes the results under his name.

By contrast, effective, non-arrogant leaders take more than their share of the blame and less than their share of the credit.

Other energy-sapping leaders are known by…

* An overwhelming need to be right, all the time.

Arrogant leaders find it almost impossible to admit their mistakes, apologize, and ask for forgiveness. They’ve got to be right … or at least look like they’re right … no matter what. And that ultimately destroys their effectiveness.

After all, if the boss is always right, the team could get to feel like they’re always wrong. And that doesn’t feel good. It’s disrespectful and demotivating.

By contrast, effective leaders are learning leaders. They can say, “I was wrong. I’ve learned to see things differently. I’ve learned a better way.”

So as Margaret A Neale, a business school professor says, “You need to constantly ask yourself: Do I want to be right or do I want to be effective?” I encourage you to ask yourself the same question.

Finally, arrogant leaders are known by their…

* Double talk.

Instead of telling the straight-out, old fashioned, unvarnished truth, they say whatever they think will ensure their power. And when they are caught in double talk, they try to weasel their way out with more double talk.

Take a look at the world of leadership, and you’ll see what I mean. Many politicians will say just about anything to get elected. I’ve even had preachers tell me they don’t dare preach what they really believe on Sunday morning for fear of losing their jobs.

But I happen to subscribe to Albert Robens’ advice. He was a politician in the 1900’s. Robens said, “Leadership, above all, consists of telling the truth, unpalatable though it may be. It is better to go down with the truth on one’s lips than to rise high by innuendo and double talk.”

So we’re back to square one. It’s time to look at your leadership. Are you an energy producer or an energy sapper in your organization? Are you guilty of ignorance or arrogance?

Action:  List three things you are doing on a regular basis to keep on learning as a leader. And if you can’t list three things you ARE doing, list three things you’re GOING to do in the next three months.