The Dark Side of Leadership

“With great power comes great responsibility” – Uncle Ben, Spider-Man (and maybe Voltaire at some point)

There is a lot of crap said about leadership. Don’t get me wrong organisations need leaders. But they also need a lot of other competencies as much if not more, after all how many leaders do we need? But very few ‘roles’ encourage as much unending boring self-aggranylsis that the concept of leadership.  So in an attempt to return some balance to a subject I love. Here are a list of the things that even good leaders will do at some point.

You will use your power over others to suppress them

Yep. You are Darth Vader. OK perhaps that is an exaggeration. But at some point someone will be too enthusiastic, too traditional, too innovative, too structured or too ‘something’, to get the job done. And the chances are you won’t leave it up to them to decide when and how they should use this potentially useful and positive attribute. You will tell them to stop. And if you didn’t have the power of your status, relative to theirs, you probably wouldn’t dare. Congratulations, for all, the right reasons you chose power over logic.  

You will impose your values on others 

It gets worse. If you have a vision, it is yours. You can share it, you can engage others but it is yours. Even if you have listened to your team/business you will have done so selectively. Why? Because you can’t please all the people all of the time.  

This means that the things that you hold dear will be in your strategy and approach. You are ‘customer centric’ really why? Do you personally believe that the customer is the life-blood of your business and get riled at poor service wherever you see it? Thought so. You believe in running a lean and mean business? I bet you aren’t a total spend-monkey at home. In other words your approach will be coloured by your values and they can never be entirely representative of those who have to execute your approach. And here’s the kicker, no matter what they believe (‘they’ being the ones you lead) you will get them to follow your values. 

They might be devoted, but how many would continue your crusade if they weren’t being paid? So actually you haven’t just imposed your values, you might be bribing your followers too.

You will measure dedication by hours

Good work means hard work! This isn’t true in every circumstances and it isn’t a guarantee. But you know that dedication is hard to measure. Hours in the office much less so, and a worker who isn’t dedicated probably won’t put the hours in therefore the ones needing to wave their hand about to keep the motion sensor lights on must be the most dedicated right? Work life balance and equal opportunities be damned!

You will be wrong with no one to blame 

Less of a bad thing to do and just the shit end of the stick. If you are in a leadership position sooner or later you will get it very wrong and have no one to blame. It’s lonely at the top.

You will blame someone unfairly

On the flip side if there is an ‘escape goat’ (sic – for fans of Community there) you will use it. Either you are frustrated at something not going right and shaking your fists at the heavens isn’t enough or the finger is slightly unfairly pointed straight at you and you need to shift it. The truth is you may not always know 100% whose fault it is. You will also have a sense that you can’t really pin it on someone. But in a moment of weakness you will give it your best go. Instant gratification. Probably lingering guilt.

You will feel like a fake

Here’s the thing: Everyone is faking. That’s right everyone. We all keep thoughts to ourselves (even that person who seems to have no filter between brain and mouth). Some of the things we don’t say are our real thoughts. So that means everyone is faking. I don’t always believe that people get ‘promoted to their level of incompetence’, but I do think that people typically get promoted beyond their comfort zone. At that point your brain will be shouting ‘we can’t do this’ and if you are also shouting it out loud you won’t last very long! If you’re not, you are faking it, and that’s probably OK.

The dark side of leadership is the things you do that are regrettable and the things you have to suffer because you are a leader. The former isn’t solved by pursuit of an ever-unrealistic goal of ‘super leader’ but instead by a simple and sincere apology to those you have hurt or affected. The latter is probably just a case of ‘suck it up’ but don’t beat yourself up because you aren’t ‘strong enough’ not o feel the pain.  

Have I missed any? Come on ‘fess up.