Truly great leaders all share common characteristics. Think about great leadership and a particular person probably springs to mind — maybe it’s not a real person, maybe it’s a fictional character, or just an imaginary person with certain attributes. Whoever you think about, he or she almost certainly does the same things or acts in the same way as the person the next reader might think of. Being somebody’s leader is different to being somebody’s boss. ‘Leadership’ is the qualitative effect a person in an influential position has in order to bring about quantitative change.
As explained in last week’s blog: ‘Decision-Making’, we are going to be tackling one characteristic of great leadership per week until we have assembled a toolkit of excellent qualities. So far we’ve looked at making effective decisions, and how they normally take four different forms. (To learn more about the four different types of decisions you make, have a lookhere)
This week we tackle something many might consider to be an unnecessary addition to the list (surely it’s common sense?!)— although it is undeniable that to not possess this quality is to fall short as a great leader.
Do you have an unreasonable boss? Here are some ways to tell: is your boss over-demanding? Does your boss set unrealistic targets? Are you encouraged to right your mistakes or are you put down for them? Do you feel demoralised? If some or any of these are true of you at work then you might have have an unreasonable boss.
Targets, KPIs and objectives must be achievable. This is a key insight of a great leader, as having unreasonable expectations is a quick and sure-fire way to demoralise a workforce. Then, when mistakes happen – and they almost always do happen from time to time – great leaders will encourage both the team member and themselves to learn from the error. This restores morale and trust in a shared focus. (For a more in-depth discussion of the benefits of failure, see our previous blog The Importance of Failure) If a team is under-performing, it is the responsibility of the leader to turn things around, not that of the team. That is what a leader is there for after all; to lead, not just to watch.
Lynn Taylor, an author and workplace expert, has a particular name for an unreasonable boss — a TOT (Terrible Office Tyrant). She describes them as leaders who ‘have trouble moderating their power, and consequently act like small children or toddlers, especially when under stress’. There is an obvious paradox here. How can a person in a position of parental authority — a leader — function if he or she themselves throws their toys out of the pram?
Just imagine: a parent and child are walking down the street when the parent remembers about the library book they forgot to renew. Instead of keeping it to themselves or muttering under their breath something about councils and ridiculous rules, the parent stamps on the floor, moans and throws their phone into the nearest wall. The child would be flabbergasted, shocked, and would almost certainly lose some respect and trust in the parent’s stability and capacity to lead, to ‘parent’. (and, arguably, their sanity in this case)
You may remember this funny advert from Vicks — how would you react if you were that child?
The same is true for a leader. If, at the slightest mistake, issue or incident your manager, CEO, head of division etc. throws a tantrum, or has an unreasonable reaction, what effect does that have on the team? When reactions are logical, proportionate and understandable then good on that leader; a just and reasonable reaction is rarely misunderstood.
To only see it from one point of view would be unwise though. Unreasonable leaders — no matter how demanding, demoralising and bossy — are still people. Behind the tyrannical facade is often a fearful child who is trying to cope with pressures and orders from above, personal life, or just the demands of the day. Lynn Taylor states that she believes “whether we’re two or fifty-two, we all have the same core human instincts, needs and fears” — so, whether you’re a boss or an employee, consider what instincts, needs and fears are driving your behaviour. Do you fear failure? Do you fear success? Do you feel that you need to be seen to be productive at all times? Do you instinctively delegate in the face of adversity? Do you instinctively keep things to yourself in the face of adversity? Addressing and/or answering these important questions is a step on the way to a better relationship with your team, employee or leader.
If this is the first step though what next? What can you do to work to change?
Steps towards curing unreasonableness, deliberate or accidental:
A typical unreasonable leader will be stubborn — but what is stubbornness? To be stubborn is to be unwilling to lose face, to give in before you generate a ‘win’. However, ideal solutions are not borne of stubbornness. Ideal solutions come about through diplomacy, negotiation and flexibility. Perhaps the solution to a lot of “face-offs” are both sides admitting that neither of them can actually win. As soon as leaders and employees realise this, they can work towards creating a situation where small-scale wins are generated, which contribute to an overall sense of satisfaction for both sides of the argument.
Generating small-scale wins can often seem like an uphill battle though. To make this approach feasible it is important to continually create and re-design options. The more options there are, the more chance there is to land on the right one — the win. Use your colleagues and employees as idea-hubs; melting pots of suggestions. Instead of being narrow-minded, accept the invigorating benefits of idea-creation. 90% of the ideas will be useless, this is almost a guarantee, but it is also a guarantee that one or two of these ideas will make you drastically alter your way of thinking. You’ll win more often.
Ultimately however, one of the easiest ways to cure your unreasonableness is to take your communication skills to task in a major way. Again and again we see that problems with office disputes; team mismanagement; conflicts in and outside of the workplace, boil down to basic communication issues. Evaluate the way you communicate with others: are you honest, open and do you even do it enough? This type of honest communication doesn’t always have to be austere and contemplative though — exercising your sense of humour in the workplace can often be the key to communicating effectively with employees and, consequently, them working well for you.
Concentrate on being reasonable first and foremost, but it’s a lot easier to cope with unreasonableness if it’s accompanied with a smile or a giggle (avoid winks, they can sometimes be misinterpreted).