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Bill George

Harvard Business School Professor, former Medtronic CEO

BBC: Can the “my way or the highway” attitude be coached out of the boss? Maybe so.

They’re know-it-alls and braggarts. They rule with an iron fist. It’s their way, their idea, their direction – or nothing at all. 

No doubt we’ve all encountered a dictator boss, or one with so little humility, we’re really not sure they had any to begin with. Is there any way to tame these characters at the office? It’s a topic several LinkedIn Influencers weighed in on this week. Here’s what two of them had to say.

Daniel Goleman, co-director of the Consortium for Research and Emotional Intelligence in Organizations and co-founder of the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning

Is there any hope for a dictatorial leader? Goleman tells the story of a manager named Allen. Behind his back, his “staff called him ‘Mr. My Way or the Highway’… Allen ruled his department with an iron fist, making every decision big and small with little input from others.” Allen’s staff didn’t dare make suggestions, he wrote in his post How to Coach a Dictatorial Leader.

With so much evidence showing that dictator leaders negatively impact team performance, it’s not just a personality problem. Executive coaches say dictatorial leaders can be tamed, sometimes. Goleman cited the work of Daniel Siegel, author of Mindsight and executive coach and speaker who tries to understand what makes a person a dictator leader.

According to Siegel, people need three “S’s”: To be seen, to be soothed, and to be safe. “When you’re safe, soothed and seen in a reliable way, you get the fourth S, security.”

The bottom line, Goleman wrote, is that when people don’t have these three S’s, they lack a sense of security, a state of mind that can make them prone to acting like a dictator in an organisation.

But changing a dictator’s style only starts with understanding why they behave that way. Goleman would ask a dictator two questions — first, do they care, and second, do they want to change? If they do want to change, dictators have to see themselves the way others do, he wrote. Yes, the dreaded 360-review (where the employee’s closest workmates are asked to provide feedback on him or her) can be a useful tool for homing in on the problem, Goleman wrote.

Next, he wrote, find a positive career model for your dictator. This could be “someone in their own career they loved as a leader… a very positive model rather than the way they’re being. Then, help them practice steps that will make them that kind of person … where they see the value of a different form of leadership.”

Ready to give up on a stuck-in-his-ways dictatorial boss because you think it’s no use changing someone so set in their path? Not so, wrote Goleman. “It’s never too late.”

Bill George, former chief executive officer at Medtronic and professor at Harvard Business School

Every day, news headlines seem stuffed with examples of not-so-humble leaders.

“Listening to the media these days one would think that our leaders have lost all sense of humility, if indeed they ever had it,” wrote George in his post Are Our Leaders Losing Their Humility?“ Donald Trump brags that he used a $1m inheritance to create $10bn net worth” and chief executives “hype their quarterly results by focusing only on the positive aspects, only to see their company’s stock prices collapse at a later date.”

“Whatever happened to humility as a virtue for leaders?” George asked. The finest leaders, he wrote, “are keenly aware of their limitations and the importance of teams around them in creating their success. They know they stand on the shoulders of giants who built their institutions.”

They also exhibit humility, he wrote, not just in their interactions with others, but also in the actions everyone can see. Perhaps it’s the concept of humility that’s been lost, he added.

“The word humility is often misunderstood. Dictionaries define it as ‘a modest opinion of one’s own importance’, ‘the quality of not thinking you are better than other people’, and ‘self-restraint from excessive vanity’”. But most importantly, “humility derives from an inner sense of self-worth….Ultimately, they know to lead is to serve their customers, employees, investors, communities, and ultimately, society through their work.”

But, he wrote, leaders who lack humility don’t seem to have that sense of self-worth. “Leaders who brag and tout their achievements often do so from a deep sense of insecurity. Outwardly, they act like bullies and try to intimidate people, but inside they feel like imposters who may be unmasked at any time.”


 

This article was originally posted to BBC.com on 3/11/16.