Better managers and leaders, post-recession

ONE of the problems with business is identified in an independent scientific study about managerial competence. In the paper ‘Personality and Leadership: A Qualitative and Quantitative Review’, it reports that effective managers tend to be highly adjusted, sociable, friendly, flexible, and prudent. Many of us come into this category surely.

Thus, they are the opposite of some of the self-made famous business and political leaders often cited as role models, such as Steve Jobs, Donald Trump, Jack Welch, Bob Diamond, Vladimir Lenin, Margaret Thatcher, Bill Gross, Justin Mateen – there are bad tales about them all. Imagine working for them directly – they may sound great, depending on your own interests, business or political leanings (or psychology?), but most people seem happiest working for people who are the exact opposite!

Is the following, in fact, the truth about a well-functioning business manager? Objective, transparent, unselfish, and apolitical. S/he assigns the right task to every person and rewards unselfish team behaviours, creating a culture of trust and keeping morale high.

S/he monitors individual and team performance with precision and provides real-time feedback to boost everybody’s productivity. S/he operates according to data rather than intuition and makes only evidence-based recommendations.

And yet most organisations today arguably choose managers who are likely flash and who demonstrate “bold displays of confidence” – whether or not that translates into actual competence.

Despite a vast body of knowledge – including independent scientific evidence – on what makes a good manager, too many people get promoted to management positions based on past technical expertise or their previous individual job performance, so they end up, in effect, transitioning from skilled labour to unskilled management, states Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic writing in HBR (Tomas is CEO of Hogan Assessment Systems, a Professor of Business Psychology at University College London, and a faculty member at Columbia University).

So, what does a very good manager look like? S/he has emotional maturity. It is mainly a function of being emotionally stable, agreeable, and conscientious. Unsurprisingly, we all become more “mature” (‘boring’) as we age.

The likes of Jobs, Sepp Blatter, Bernie Madoff, and Pablo Escobar (as Michael Maccoby pointed out in an influential HBR essay) “tend to be poor listeners who are sensitive to criticism and demonstrate low levels of emotional intelligence”. In addition, such people are noted to be ruthless, impatient, demanding, morally questionable etc. Who wants to be thought of or remembered as being like that?

Chamorro-Premuzic says: “In any culture people are more volatile and antisocial during their teens, and they become more conforming, conservative and rule-abiding as they grow older. Although this tends to have a negative connotation in much of the Western world – which avowedly values creativity, disruption, and individuality – it is clearly an asset when it comes to managerial potential.”

Maybe these leaders never grew up and were allowed to bully their immediate business world? They never nurtured a normal life, let their family suffer for the sake of their work? This type of leadership is more than likely what has been wrong with various parts of business up to the last economic crash. Chickens came home to roost, as the late respected Stephen R Covey once explained. Let’s see, as the economic world moves forward, if business has learned and is able to better choose leaders who are stable, highly adjusted, sociable, friendly, flexible, and prudent… ones that people are happiest to work for.

This blog is called ‘The Business Patient’ that, during its life will likely explore, among many issues, a current vein of popular thought, gossip, knowledge and criticism at home – and down the pub; that many companies and organisations are badly run. Sometimes they don’t realise it; sometimes they need time to recover, heal; sometimes they need better processes, and better people.

Sometimes bad culture carries on despite leadership changes. It’s not just about individual leaders in such workplaces either though; work can be hard, requires application of much intelligence and knowledge, as well as tough traits to get through and get things done – but one of those is almost certainly NOT ever huge amounts of anger at people, treating them badly, or even cruelly (e.g. Adolf Hitler – many thought him a great leader once; IBM should have known better). Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but hear the ring of truth…

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