THE PERSONALITY OF THE LEADER UNDER PRESSURE
THE LEADING PERSONALITY
It is a self-evident fact, which is also proven by recent research around the world, that quality leadership affects profits by at least 51%. The remaining 49% is influenced by other factors. (Global Leadership Forecast, DDI 2011).
But in Greece in 2012, how real is this truth? How many executives leading small, medium, or large businesses do not feel that their overall influence on the bottom line of the P&L is constantly diminishing, as we are in today’s vortex.
Looking through the lens of psychology, these executives are in a state of long-term siege. In these situations of threat, the human body enters a state of defense, and the available options are three: Flight, Fight or Surrender. For business leadership, these three options translate into the following typical behaviors.
Flight is expressed by isolation from staff, delay in decision-making, half-hearted roll-out of plans, absence of communication, loss of trust in colleagues and diplomatic passive resistance, just to name a few findings. These behaviors alienate the executives from their people and eventually hinder adequate management.
Fighting involves aggressive communication, taking uninformed risk, using manipulation on others, promoting personal agenda, taking unworthy credit, exaggerating promises and using anything that will shut the mouths of internal or external “enemies”. These behaviors can work positively for a short time, but soon lead to “burn-out” of the overexposed executive and defending behaviors of the ones affected.
Finally, Surrender refers to the unconditional surrendering to the claims of some of the stakeholders to the detriment of others. Surrendering means that the executive loses those supporters who are harmed by this behavior and ends up acting alone or with minimal support. The result is loss of followers’ trust.
We all observe one or the other behavior or combination of these by some business leaders, when they are under pressure; which ones depends on their temperament.
Is there a way to support leaders who have been affected by the siege? What is it and how will it be implemented?
There is no one answer. It depends on the leader and the context of the business s/he manages. It also depends on the members of the management team who can intervene in support. This role is often played by the human resources manager or experienced, “seasoned” managers who can have the difficult discussion with the executive.
Some actions in the right direction are listed below:
At first, the executive must understand how s/he behaves. Has her/his behavior changed due to pressure? And if so, how? Which tendency is the dominating one? Fight, flight, or surrender?
S/he needs to make the diagnosis. Either by asking those s/he trusts, or a wider population. It would be best to listen to all stakeholders. After receiving the feedback, s/he should decide if her/his behaviors affect profits. Short-term or long-term. Possible questions to ask: Is s/he too slow to make a decision? Is s/he too slow to implement another? Did s/he succumb too quickly to a claim? Did s/he put a lot of pressure on some people? Is s/he a defensive tactician? Has s/he taken a big risk? Has s/he become estranged from her/his people? Has s/he made too many promises?
There are diagnostic tools. A 360′ feedback for the entire management team and / or psychometric tools for identifying derailers for executives, can bring to the surface behaviors that the executive cannot or does not want to perceive.
If the assessment is done and one or more answers to the questions are YES, then the next question is, what will be the next action? Some leaders resent themselves when they are not up to the task. Some others think that it is better to avoid self-criticism if they want to keep their self-confidence intact.
For the former, that is, those who seek constructive criticism and want to improve, only by taking a short self-assessment will trigger the first changes that will lead to the first improved behaviors. Having identified the negative behaviors, the executive will probably do one of the following: S/he will self-regulate, that is, s/he will acquire counter-behaviors in relation to those that have been recognized as dysfunctional. S/he will ask for help to confirm the findings or to identify the best coping strategies. This help can come from within the business (e.g. mentoring) or from an external executive coach. There has been a lot of literature on whether executive coaching is effective but research in recent years has proven that coaching really helps executives become better leaders (Dagley, 2006; Kampa Kokesch, 2001) and that the cost-benefit index is significantly positive (Mc Govern et al, 2001).
Many leaders belong to the second category and prefer not to suffer in the torment of self-evaluation / self-improvement. That is, they believe that their behaviors so far have helped them succeed and there is no need for improvement. For them the route will be more lonely and more difficult. If they continue to exhibit dysfunctional behaviors in times of pressure, at some point they will be forced to seek help, they will fail or they will simply continue in the same route and their fate will depend on external factors or lack.
Whatever category a leader belongs to, s/he must understand how he behaves when under pressure; s/he must obtain strategic self-awareness. There are tools for this purpose. S/he should also know that at any time s/he should share her/his thoughts and concerns with a neutral third party with no vested interest in the company. This third party may or may not be a professional coach but generally needs to know how to help a top executive.
Leadership makes a difference; even more so when we are under siege. The Leader should control the dysfunctional behaviors that pressure brings to the surface and turn them into positive strategies that will lead to solutions.
The challenge described, which involves many Greek business leaders, has been analyzed by vocational psychologists who study leadership, and some have come up with advice (Nelson & Hogan, Coaching on the dark side, 2009) that may be helpful.