Wednesday, 31 August 2011

When Leader-ship Goes Astray

Many times in life, your peers give you positions of responsibility, because they believe that the task will be handled well by you. They trust that the various challenges the task poses will be best handled by you, and that you will help the team perform efficiently and smoothly. They hope to feel organized and productive under your regime. They expect you will respect their interests and still make sure that the task at hand is addressed properly. Do you realize that being a leader is not just limited to finishing the task at hand? Do you notice that it is not an easy task to lead a team to pursue a set of goals? Do you see how important it is for a leader to be firm, yet morally righteous? Does it strike that the leader is the icon that represents the team, and his character is reflected in the team’s attitude? No wonder we have few great leaders. In all other cases, the team is subjected to unwanted authority, unwarranted bias, and unpleasant reprimand. If you have experienced such a situation, you will know how horrible it feels, because you cannot go against the leader, as you want to keep the integrity of the team intact, but in this process are forced to go against your own morals and ethics. In this section, I just want to bring to light how we end up losing our identity when under the influence of such leadership.

I sometimes wonder if we really need leaders? What if there were none? And the answer comes straight – if there are no leaders, the world will end up in utter chaos. It is really a spectacle to watch a group of people performing wonders while motivated by a single man who is able to command the team, yet the team feels inspired and motivated rather than suppressed and opposed.

The trouble begins when the leader does not understand this. When he does not have the slightest concern for the people under him, the only thing that matters to him is if the task gets done. When it becomes too hard for him to handle the work and he tries to hide it by blaming it on the team. When he uses his authority to harass people he does not like, and to incentivize people he favors. When he does not understand ethics and his actions are driven by desire to “send a message” of authority, and when his actions do not have any affect in his conscience at all. That is when everything begins to go wrong. That is when mistrust, dissatisfaction, unhappiness, rebellion, contempt and a variety of negative feelings breed in the group. And once this sets in, the process is irreversible. There are always people who support the authority irrespective of its status, and luckily they keep the “teamwork” running. For the remaining it is just the horrible experience I mentioned above.

We let people lead us in the hope that they will lead us to a better understanding and learning of the task at hand. But at a later point of time when we find out that the leader displays a lower level of maturity and understanding than what you believe you have acquired, then we land up in an identity crisis. Because having accepted the leadership we will have to follow the team’s policies, whereas our own ideas differ completely. So this creates mistrust and unhappiness and people realize they are stuck. If you ever come across such a situation, it is essential preserve your identity and yet be a part of the team. How is it possible? Having passed through similar situations many times and after some reflection on this, I thought of writing it down here. This is just my view about the topic; it is not my intention to create any differences.

The symptoms of a bad leader are quite visible and obvious. Some of them are listed here for your reference:

Is Aggressive: Being aggressive is a symbol of insecurity and is essentially a failure of trust and normal communication. Whenever you see someone shouting his throat out to make himself heard, it shows the leader essentially lacks influence and support of his team.
Lies/ Tricks/ Cheats: There are ethical ways of getting right things done. But things that are unethical can be done only using unethical means. And if the captain resorts to these, then it means he lacks ethics.
Uses power for personal impact: Some people just want to create the image of a ‘DON’. They want to be respected and feared and they will go out of their way by exercising their power to make sure this happens. Basically these people are insecure, and need some attention.
Promotes personal vision: Now these people just don’t care if anyone else has anything to say about the matter at hand. They know (or think that they know) what they want and will go on promoting these ideas. Irrespective of what the team feels.
Censures critical or opposing views: Sometimes people are not content with promoting their views (which may not be strong enough) and so they try to censure critical views, often in an aggressive manner “So you think I am wrong? You think it is my fault? Are you questioning my decision?” And well most of the people cower under the pressure, or get repulsed by the vanity of taking up the task of explaining a contrasting viewpoint.
Demands that his decisions be accepted without question: If someone cannot answer a question about his own decisions and actions, how can he do it for others? Leaders in this category form the typical martinets or dictators, like Hitler. There is no chance for anyone to say anything. Or at least that’s what the demand is.
One- way communication: He will do the talking. Your role is to listen. Some time he will grace you by allowing you to say, “Yes” or “No”. Your input beyond this is probably insignificant, and not required to the team. Probably you are not required either.
Insensitive to follower’s needs: Basically, they don’t really care if you are comfortable and are able to work happily and if you are not stressed out or if you find the job too difficult. All they care about is the output.
Relies on convenient external moral standards to satisfy self – interests: The whole team may feel a certain decision is unjust and immoral. But who said that the moral standard of the team is to be decided by the team members? They are supposed to follow. These leaders, who are quite experienced in adjusting the levels according to the situation involved, suitably define the moral standards according to their convenience.
Dilutes and Disguises: The leaders disguise their personal ideas (which are often unethical) by using euphemisms or softened versions of the decisions. For example, using phrases like “helped him make a career choice” for firing an employee, “inappropriate allocation of resources” for an act of stealing, “helped in rediscovering passions” for rustication from an academic setting, etc. are typically seen in such leaders.

You now know some of the symptoms of the so-called Un-ethical Leaders. Not all these traits are seen in every such leader, but it is generally a mix of these characteristics that are observed. The basic question remains – Why do leaders act this way? Don’t they have morals? If they do, are they under any pressure to compete with others who have been more successful? Or is it just the power they get due to the post that makes them take advantage? A leader is given privileged access to sensitive information for a purpose – it is expected that he will use it sensibly to handle situations and improve the overall performance by taking wise strategic decisions. But sometimes leaders may relax and enjoy the control and privileges they get, and when this happens the strategic focus is lost. For any of the reasons mentioned above (or for other reasons) the leader indulges in unethical activities, which can often be covered up by the power that comes with the position. With repeated such incidents, leaders may see themselves above law and the rules of the institution. Information about the group’s strategies is kept away from those in a lower hierarchy, and if they fail to live by these standards they are punished and abused. If they complain, they are expelled. A group of people who have been doing what the leader wishes is favored, taken given a high position praised. The others are essentially given no voice.

For any leader, acting ethically is critical if members of the organization are to see him as responsible and credible and if they are to act ethically themselves. The leadership must itself come under he law of the organization. Using unethical means to exercise power and create fear and friction in the organization can never lead to a successful effort. It is much better to keep away form such team, even if it is well established, and successful than to work with them and lose ones identity in the process.

If you have also seen these traits in leaders around you, then you can now relate these to the discussion I have been building up. In such cases it is important to modify the leadership to make the organization work better. Some of the steps that can be taken for this are suggested here.

Communicate with others about your ideas: It is possible that you have not exactly understood why the decision had to be taken. Talk with various teammates, talk to the leader and anyone concerned. Clarify if you still believe the decision is unethical. Ask yourself why and be sure you know it.
Propose to the people: Discuss with others why you feel the particular decision taken is unethical and see if people are in general agreement or disagreement. You can even discuss the issue with the leader, if he is open to it.
Propose to the captain: If you feel that the public feels the decision is not appropriate mention this to the leader and notice his stand. If he sees reason, and relents/ explains the matter further, he is probably genuine. But if he uses any of the techniques that have been mentioned above, he is clearly indulging in an unethical activity, and something must be done about it.
Garner support: The public need to know that the leadership takes a stand against them, because most of the time it is concealed due to the influence of the leader. There must be general awareness about the leader’s attitude towards the issues.
Collective Decision: Arrive at a collective decision on what can be done in order to stop the leaders unethical actions and take action accordingly.

A strong leadership inspires a strong organization,
A strong leadership can also inspire a weak organization
But a weak leadership will destroy any organization; render it inefficient, and unsuccessful.

It is our responsibility to take initiatives in our daily life to inculcate ethical leadership in ourselves as well as our organization. With constant perseverance and conscious effort it is possible. It is not at all possible by submitting passively to the leaders wishes. By asserting ones rights, and views it can surely be achieved.

The views expressed on leadership are a result of carefully contemplation and research. They may appear as very sharp or striking, but it has been done only to create an effect. The intention of the article is to sensitize you to the ways of unethical leaders and be wary of them.

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