Recognise anyone?

Whose version of leadership are you expressing?

I made the mistake of moaning to my mother the other day about my daughter being a drama queen. "Hmmm," she pondered sagely, "I wonder where she gets that from?"

As with the saying 'like mother, like daughter', so we can unconsciously replicate the leadership style of the people who have led us – even if at the time we didn't like the impact of their way of doing things.

I used to work for a guy who found it very hard to give praise. Mess up and he was over it like a rash, pull a triumph out of the jaws of disaster and nada. Memorably, he once flicked through my 360 feedback during an appraisal and announced "No, nothing bad to address here" and tossed it to one side. When I asked him about the good stuff, he looked at me like I was from another planet. "Well, there is no need to go through that is there?" When I called him up on this he told me he was never praised or thanked by his boss. "How did that feel?" I asked him. "Shit" he replied sadly.


He's not alone. Many of the leaders we’ve coached can recall with clarity what it felt like to be on the receiving end of poor leadership. Yet dig under the surface a little and they admit to being guilty of some of the very same habits that they berated in their bosses.

When we find ourselves sitting in the leader's chair, we rarely consciously decide what kind of leader we want to be. Instead we fall into the trap of doing to others as our bosses have done to us. And it's all too easy to make excuses for the unwanted behaviours we find ourselves repeating. Team appraisals? Yeah, bit too busy to think about those at the moment. That difficult conversation with that awkward account manager? Ah, things aren't that bad are they, I'm sure he'll work it out by himself. Delegate that high-profile project to someone else? Frankly it's quicker if I do it myself.

When a group of Harvard business school students were asked what was the greatest attribute a leader should cultivate, the answer was self-awareness. Great leaders are those who know who they are – the good and the bad - and work mindfully to break bad habits they’ve picked up along the way. It’s not enough to excuse our bad behaviour as just the way we were taught to lead, we must all strive to be our best selves if we want to lead others effectively.

Date posted: 28 November 2014