A 2014 study by Sandler Training and Ipsos found that 40% of American workers would give their bosses a ‘B’ grade for overall management skills, 24% a ‘C’ and 14% a ‘D’ or an ‘F’ on their hypothetical report cards. In a 2012 IBP survey of 1,000 British workers 35% said their bosses ‘behave badly’, 12% even saying they displayed inappropriate behaviour, mainly bad language, bullying, lying and breaching confidentially.
Two of many surveys that suggest a large percentage of modern managers are doing a poor job. This may be the eternal view of managers by the managed; no worse today than in the past. But evidence from numerous recent debacles, from News International to the Co-op Bank, suggests we have a growing problem. And, assuming managers today are intrinsically no less able or ethical than those from previous generations it would seem that the pressure of today’s fast-paced, interconnected, competitive business world is creating it.
While the results of leadership failures are easily identified, even newsworthy, the underlying reasons too often remain hidden, dwelling on the ‘dark side’. Unusually for a book on leadership The Leadership Shadow addresses this ‘dark side’ and looks squarely at the negative personality traits and psychological pressures that can bring about leadership disintegration. Helpfully it also proposes approaches leaders can take to recognize the danger signs and, as its sub-title promises avoid derailment, hubris and overdrive.
The authors take the premise that leadership is not about the individual but about relationships, and that there is an unavoidable rift in the relationship between the leader ‘set apart’ and her followers, a rift that can also be found within the leader herself, “a rift between one’s sunny, active, constructive… side… and one’s doubting, pessimistic… side.” The tension that arises from these rifts, in the context of a highly complex, competitive, business environment can be the trigger for the shadow side of leadership.
The book explains why leaders get sucked into damaging psychological states – antisocial, passive-aggressive, narcissistic, paranoid, etc. – then goes on to show how they can harness their own leadership shadow. Paradoxically the authors contend that through self-awareness leaders can approach their personal leadership shadow positively, “as something creative that can inform us and help to balance excesses.”
Referencing the leadership styles of Pericles, Taoism, and Ubuntu, and introducing some alarming leadership types such as the suffering misfit, the performing prima donna, the creative day-dreamer and the brilliant sceptic, this book, rich with case studies, is a deeply thoughtful and illuminating read; a must for would-be stable leaders, executive coaches, and leadership developers everywhere.
The Leadership Shadow: How to Recognize and Avoid Derailment, Hubris and Overdrive, Erik de Haan and Anthony Kasozi, Published by Kogan Page, 2014, ISBN 978-0-7494-7049-4
Professor Erik de Haan, Director of the Ashridge Centre for Coaching and Professor of Organisational Development and Coaching at VU University Amsterdam
Anthony Kasozi, Director of Quilibra Consulting and an Associate at Ashridge Consulting