Is there a Darth Vader sitting in your leadership team? Worse still, have they been enabled by others rewarding the choices they’ve taken?
Over 100 participants assembled at the York Marriott Hotel on 30th September to hear more from Tony Platton (Psyton HR) about the dark side of leadership.
The path you choose
As young Anakin Skywalker proved in the Star Wars movies- leadership is all about the path you choose to take. Through the use of several complex workplace dilemmas, Tony illustrated that the choices that leaders make can inadvertently set the tone for everything that follows. The language they use, the culture they reward, and also the behaviours/expectations of their followers. All leaders can leave a wake of both ‘light-side’ and ‘dark-side’ traits, depending on how their energy is channelled.
Effective leadership behaviours - is there such a thing?
Tony described effective leadership behaviours in four areas: influence, intention, integrity and followership, giving examples of true leadership being “real influence amongst real followers, who come together under a shared purpose to effect real change.”
Of course any of these leadership behaviours can quickly turn from strengths into potential derailers.
Influence, for example, includes ‘power’ - with the potential to be coercive, but which should ideally be multi-directional in order to be most effective. Intention, equally, can be directed in a way that becomes self-serving, but Tony notes that effective leaders take steps to ensure that the self becomes less-important, replaced by a shared purpose. When was the last time you heard a leader say “it is about what we are trying to do here” rather than “can you do this for me”?
The "Peter Principle"
It’s an interesting quirk of workplace hierarchy that an idea such as the ‘Peter Principle’ exists: “people will rise to the point of incompetence.” Dysfunctional or problematic behaviours can arise from many factors. For instance, new leaders might have problems detaching established friendships, in order to be seen as fair and impartial. Elsewhere, experts in specific areas may have found themselves promoted purely due to their linear expertise, only to find challenges adapting to more-diverse demands. And it’s when leaders find themselves in unchartered territory that their behaviour can suddenly switch to the dark side.
How to manage 'dark-side' behaviour
As is often the case, a ‘one size fits all’ approach does not work when managing any kind of behaviour.
Consider your typical Authoritarian leader. Robust, heroic, formal and decisive. So far, so positive, right? Tony also offered some ‘dark side’ behaviours associated with this type of leader: prideful, not always in tune with emotional intelligence, not always humanistic in their intentions, and often imbued with a polarised view of the world. Managing this type of leader has to be handled respectfully, through careful education and encouraging them to stretch their performance.
What about Narcissistic leaders? You know the type: charming, articulate, ambitious and charismatic. It’s hard not to associate some of these traits with many successful leaders in the public eye. But of course the darker aspects of these behaviours can lead to egotistical outlooks, high sensitivity (and in turn, discomfort in the face of criticism), and ruthlessness. Managing and influencing this type of leader typically involves playing to that ego - reassuring them of any fears that may be lurking beneath the surface, and finding ways in which they can redirect their charisma into more positive channels.
Can followers enable ‘dark-side’ behaviours?
The importance of understanding followership to measuring the effectiveness of leadership is well documented. We know from Milgram’s work in the 1970s that groupthink (whilst promoting group harmony) can also reward, enable and elicit the darker aspects of leadership. Human nature is such that many of us can unwillingly respond to authority even if our behaviours conflict with our consciences. Tony argued that effective followers can guard against this, discouraging 'dark-side’ behaviour by fostering truth-telling, as well as thinking critically and independently. Naturally, these behaviours, must, in-turn, be invited and modelled by the leader. It’s two-way street.
Multiple perspectives, better insights
Tony’s session closed by exploring a number of case studies using the EPQL360 Profile. This multi-rater tool offered a measure of differing perceptions about a leader’s behaviour, emotional intelligence and styles of leadership. One key insight after looking at an entire team’s data was that peers and colleagues can very often perceive the darker sides of leadership more easily (and more consistently) than the leader themselves.
In a world where a focus on positivity and appreciation is considered highly effective, Tony reminds us that occasionally, we do have to ask ourselves to look in the developmental mirror from a different angle, accept what we see, and challenge ourselves to be mindful of the darker aspects of our personality.