I was at a training programme this week with about thirty managers from one of Malaysia’s top corporations. It was a really good session for me personally.
It was good because I felt empowered by the training. I learnt as much as I shared. These are the best types of training programmes I conduct, where the exchanges between me and the participants, as well as their interactions with each other, create an enriching learning environment, for all.
I was quite buoyed by lunch time. Usually at lunch breaks, I like to conserve energy by resting for the continuation of the programme. So I always sneak off to find a place to be alone.
As we were breaking for lunch, I noticed that one participant was waiting for me. I knew her as I had her in my executive leadership coaching programme before.
Although I also remembered her having some major anger management issues!
She looked so earnestly at me, wanting to speak about something. The intensity of her look, told me that I should spend some time with her instead of slipping away.
I braced myself for an intense conversation, but it turned out to be a really pleasurable chat.
She had matured into a well-rounded manager. She no longer had the underlying simmering rage, which made her a complex person to work with, before. She was calmer, more thoughtful, and quite incisive.
Of course, in my ego-fuelled mind, I immediately claimed credit for her positive transformation.
But as I listened to her narrative over that hour, I understood that the bulk of her constructive change was impacted by moving from one line leader to another.
Having served under a leader who was insecure therefore indecisive, controlling, and manipulative, she moved to work under the leadership of an empowering, encouraging, go-getter of a general manager.
The end result of just changing her reporting structure enabled her to fully realise her potential.
I found this really amazing as it was truly a win-win situation for herself, and the company. She had become a happier person, and the company now had a solid employee who is eminently suitable for further promotion.
This made me think about the incredible psychological impact that leaders have over their subordinates. And how their personal insecurities, and self-deception thwarts the progress of people around them.
I wanted to understand this phenomenon better, so I revisited the book “Leadership and Self Deception” by the Arbinger Institute.
I won’t go into the minutiae of the book. Suffice it to say that I would recommend it as essential reading for anyone who holds a leadership position, or for those with leadership aspirations.
The book categorises leaders into those who see people in a distorted way, and as a source of their problems. And, leaders who are able see others as people who have feelings, hopes, fears, and needs.
The first type of leader will place their desires in the centre of everything. They will have no regard for others. The needs of people around them are secondary, and less legitimate than their own.
They blame and find fault with whatever their subordinates, colleagues or even bosses do. And, because they place their wishes above anybody else’s, they will only find the time to look at what others might require, after they are satisfied that their own needs are fulfilled.
As a result, they end up with teams where there is a discernable lack of commitment and engagement; poor team work; constant backbiting and communication problems; and the lack of trust will be widespread.
This leader never succeeds because they betray the basic human obligation to see others as people, who have aspirations that matter, as much as theirs.
The second category of leader is the person who places their needs, and the needs of others, at par.
They are committed to their own responsibilities. But at the same time, they are mindful that those who work with, and for them, have equally valid and legitimate goals, needs, challenges, and concerns.
You will find that these leaders are effective communicators, and are able to motivate the people around them. They will be deft at delivering difficult messages without creating any ill feeling.
Smart and bright people tend to gravitate to this leader because they will feel that they are being treated in a forthright manner, and are given the respect and dignity they deserve.
This second category of leader creates an environment of openness, trust and teamwork, where people work hard, put in effort for the collective good of everyone, and not for individual accomplishments.
If you are in a leadership role right now, think about the leader you want to report to, yourself?
Is it the person who sees you just as an inconsequential cog, to their own personal success?
Or is it the leader who has the mind-set that while they have needs, they must juxtapose this with your goals, needs, challenges, and concerns fears, which are equally valid, for the good of all?
And, which category of leader are you?
Shankar R. Santhiram is managing consultant and executive leadership coach at EQTD Consulting. He is also the author of the national bestseller “So, You Want To Get Promoted?”