The world is full alpha-leaders. These are men and women who get to the top because they are ambitious at the cost of all else. They tend to excel at company politics, are ultra-competitive, and never seem to notice or care about the collateral damage left in their wake. Alpha-leaders rely on overt bullying and passive aggressive behaviors to coerce or manipulate others into supporting their agenda. We’ve all met the type. They take every opportunity to assert their authority over you. If they’re having a bad day, it’s fine to yell at you or embarrass you publicly. If it is in their self-interest, they will withhold relevant information, prevent you from having a life, and then throw you under the bus. Fragile egos make it hard for them to handle any bad news or feedback. They expect absolute loyalty from you, but reserve the right to dismiss you at their whim. Don’t expect to get any credit or appreciation because you are, after all, only average.
It is no wonder that alpha-leaders take a heavy toll on the spirit of an organization. Employees who work for these leaders start hating their jobs, stop coming up with new ideas, find creative reasons to miss work, become less productive, experience more stress, and eventually get lulled into a never-ending state of going along to get along.
According to a 2016 Gallup research study, this lack of employee engagement costs U.S. businesses between $450-500 billion a year.
This problem will only be magnified as we speed into the complexities of the digital age. Businesses will no longer be able to muddle along with low levels of engagement. Survival in the digital era demands attracting top talent and incorporating them into cohesive teams that act with precision and purpose. Companies are already finding that younger generations are less inclined to stay in unfulfilling positions just for a paycheck. These issues are all problematic for businesses scrambling to stay in lock-step with ever increasing consumer expectations.
While many companies may recognize that they need to cultivate enlightened leaders, many just don’t know how to get there. Enlightened leaders know themselves well, demonstrate character, put their colleagues first and establish clear vision.
Actions speak louder than words
Ask any CEO if they want enlightened leaders at the helm and you will almost always get a resounding “absolutely.” Ask them how they go about achieving that and they will typically refer you to a mission statement, a hiring process, or a balanced scorecard. What we keep forgetting is that current leaders of organizations learn how to be leaders from the ones who went before them. We adopt culture and survival skills from our predecessors, not from a values poster in the lunchroom. If being a jerk is rewarded with success in a given environment, then people will likely learn to be fantastic jerks. If organizations want to raise enlightened leaders they have to do the hard work of demonstrating those ideals in daily interactions.
As long as alpha-leaders are producing financial results, organizations will usually tolerate and sometimes even reward borderline behavior (The Wolf of Wall Street is an extreme example of this concept). As long as businesses are only defining success in terms of profitability, alpha-leaders will continue to rise to top positions. To move the needle on fixing the alpha-leader dilemma, organizations have to embrace culture as a strategic advantage. Enlightened leaders know that how you get results has to matter as much, if not more, than the outcome.
Immunity is one of the rewards for rising through the ranks in many organizations. An alpha-leader is this environment runs rampant and loses perspective because they never receive any kind of feedback. In time, a sense of entitlement settles in and a fracture cuts through the corporate culture separating the haves with the have nots. Healthy cultures encourage feedback and accountability. Enlightened leaders create channels for everyone to be able to speak up. Organizations also need to invest in developing the skills to constructively deal with issues as they arise so everyone can learn and evolve.
The bottom line is that enlightened leadership is a requirement for surviving in the new age of business. Navigating the rapidly changing currents caused by digitalization will depend on leaders who have taken the time to build strong relationships and set their teams up for success. When leaders learn to genuinely care for others they are rewarded with engagement, innovation, and trust. Individuals who know their worth to the organization, are set up to fully participate on inspired teams who believe in their collective power and are equipped to navigate our world of exponential change.
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© Corporate Spring I 2017