A few years ago, consultant Larry Liberty wrote a book called The Maturity Factor: Solving the Mystery of Great Leadership. The book stresses that the emotional and psychological maturity of a leader is more important than where they were educated, who they know, or what prior experiences they have. According to the author, 80% of corporate executives are not fully mature. Most executives are, at best, what he calls “High Functioning Adolescents.”
John Renesch, noted futurist and writer on social and organizational change, wrote a foreword to Liberty’s book. Renesch quotes part of it in the May issue of his newsletter, FutureShapers Monthly. ( The entire essay, entitled Women at Work: Employing the Powerful Feminine is well worth a read; its primary theme doesn’t concern us directly here but is a fascinating one. )
“Organizations, particularly business organizations,” wrote Renesch, ” have unparalleled influence on our society today. The business sector, and the economic system which fuels it, is the de facto leader of the industrialized world. This dramatic shift in global power away from traditional institutions like government has important implications. Never in human history has there been such a universal need for organizational leadership that acts responsibly for the good of all people. The hierarchical, top-down rule that dominated the Cold War era and the benevolent dictator models of some of today’s republics are equally unacceptable. A new, more mature leadership is needed — no, absolutely necessary — to assure that our children and grandchildren live in a time of greater civility, less apprehension about the survivability of the human race and greater compassion for all people on Earth.”
On somewhat similar lines, management consultant Myra White, in a recent article entitled Seeking Competent Leaders, poses a question that must be on the minds of many following last year’s financial debacle. How did it happen that “may of the business leaders in whom we placed our faith, our trust and even our money” turned out to be ” incompetent or (in some cases) out-and-out charlatans”?
Part of the explanation, asserts White, lies “with the fact that we often are more concerned with social skills, likeability and charisma in choosing our leaders than we are with their ability to be effective leaders.”
Research has not found that leaders who are socially adept or liked or admired are more effective
White identifies several leadership types prevalent in the business world today, all of which fall short of the ideal: the servant leader who serves the people he or she serves rather than controlling them; the emotionally intelligent leader who has social charm , empathy, self-awareness and self-control; the transformational leader who provides people with a vision of a better world and motivates them to transcend their self-interest; and finally the charismatic leader – who emotionally energizes followers with an inspiring vision of the future and convinces them that he or she is the heroic figure who can make this vision real.
But even though many of these characteristics may be cause for admiration, they do not necessarily mean that the leader we have chosen will deliver results. “Research has not found that leaders who are socially adept or liked or admired are more effective.”
White acknowledges that likeability and charisma are desirable qualities. They have value in energizing and motivating followers to achieve a leader’s goals. But in a complex world where countries and businesses are globally intertwined, can charisma be enough?
As White aptly puts it: “Sport teams pick people based on their competence and ability, not their social skills and charisma . Why shouldn’t businesses and organizations follow suit?”
Azriel Winnett is the author of the highly acclaimed, eye-opening book How to Build Relationships That Stick. An enhanced edition is now available as a paperback.