contours of leadership

, and March 25, 2016 0 comments

According to a study (2009) on the millennial generation conducted by the authors, one of the biggest crises in contemporary societies, in addition to environmental and energy crisis, is leadership. This is evident in all walks of life—politics, academics, or business. Institutions are floundering owing to the alarming rise in self-aggrandizement and corruption, directly in proportion to leaders failing to play their roles with vision and integrity. In today’s context, organizations are unable to harness the enormous human potential available because leaders do not know how to lead.

In fact, many  position holders delude themselves by the thought that now that they have been given the position, it means others have to listen and accept their thinking—as if they have turned into  great leaders overnight. Rather the opposite phenomenon usually takes place. Many times, as soon as people get to a position of power—CEO, Chairman, or Managing Director—they ‘lose their head’; such is the impact of positional elevation to the highest level. A perfectly normal and amiable person becomes imposing and insufferable. It is difficult to understand how this mutation takes place. Is he not the same person as before? Has he changed? Amazingly enough, once they are out of power, they revert to their earlier behavioral pattern. Such phenomena have been attributed to feudalistic Indian society and the hierarchical orientation existing in large organizations. The question raised is the leadership issue in the changing demographic context, with millennials joining the workforce. It has been found there is a gap between the mindsets of these two generations. Clearly, leaders will have to change their approaches and adapt to successfully handle
the younger generation and tap their capabilities.

What is the impact of leaders on their team members and direct reports? How do they cope with toxic leaders and how does a virtuous leader positively impact subordinates and in turn workplace performance? These were the fundamental questions which the research sought to answer. The authors are of the view that one can learn about leadership, as much by knowing what to do, as by understanding what not to do. Hence, the book examined both toxic leadership and virtuous leadership phenomenon.

Toxic and virtuous leadership have been defined in terms of their impact on people—do the leaders create emotional distress or do they have a positive impact which enhances the self-esteem, enthusiasm, and zeal of employees? An attempt has been made to provide rich insights into both toxic and virtuous leadership by developing case studies of senior leaders—chairman, managing director, and CEO. The approach was to interview people who have worked with the selected leaders. A survey was conducted among managers (734) regarding their experiences with both toxic and virtuous leaders. In addition, data was gathered not only in India but also from a number of other countries in Asia and Africa.

The uniqueness of this research lies not only in the blend of data from qualitative and quantitative sources, but also in its data set—national and international. Above all, the basic concept underlying this work is also unique. Researchers typically focus on either positive leadership approaches such as transformational, turnaround, and consultative; or toxic leadership. So far researchers have not attempted to examine both together. In fact, this is one of the distinctive conceptual contributions of this book—the model being that human behavior ranges from toxic to virtuous. Although endowed with both kinds of potential, leaders generally tend to operate at different points of this continuum. When they operate exclusively at the toxic end, they become terrible and hated leaders. At the virtuous end of the continuum, they become humane.

The research highlights the fact that leaders have a powerful impact on people, both positive and negative. By now it is common wisdom that employees leave their bosses not organizations. The study found that the most hated leaders are those who are arrogant, self-opinionated, close minded, manipulative, blame others, create insecurity among people, and play favorites. Those position holders who display toxic behaviors are disliked and create negative emotional reactions such as emotional distress, desire to quit, fear, anxiety, insecurity, loss of self-confidence and self-worth, and lack of passion and commitment. The most liked and admired virtuous leadership behaviors are being humble, empowering, and approachable, respecting the dignity of others, and providing a clear sense of direction for performance. They are also good listeners.

The book aims at sensitizing managers and would be leaders to the behaviors they need to cultivate in order to influence and lead people towards achieving larger organizational goals. In fact, the book can enable leaders and would be leaders on their personal leadership odyssey—the journey to shape themselves to be the best that they can possibly become, by reducing their toxic side and enhancing their virtuous side. The last chapter deals with ways and means to break the autopilot of assumptions and stereotypes, and enables movement towards learning and leading consciously. The book advocates managing oneself holistically—including the spiritual, intellectual, emotional, and physical self in order to lead consciously. The checklist provided at the end of the book is a useful reminder to readers about the areas to focus on and those
to ignore.

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