Speaking of Leadership
We are proud to have Robert B. Denhardt, Director of Leadership Programs, Price School of Public Policy, USC answer any questions you have about Leadership and Management.
View the answers to already existing questions by clicking on the question or log in and ask your own question.
I saw this recently and wondered how you would respond. "New York City Council Speaker and mayoral hopeful Christine Quinn has an idiosyncratic leadership style that involves hurling invective at those around her, threatening to mutilate opponents and yelling so loudly that subordinates were forced to soundproof her office to avoid scaring visitors. Quinn says her robust approach is an effective strategy for breaking through red tape and getting things done.”
This “leadership style” doesn’t even deserve the “leadership” label. Leadership depends on connecting with people emotionally in a way that moves them and causes them to act. Screaming is not the way to make connections with others. At best, you might say that this is a “management style,” but even there it’s not likely to be one that’s effective, especially in the long term. The abusive manager may “break through red tape” occasionally but not for long – and each of these breaks also breaks a relationship. Over time, employees are likely to react first by quietly undermining the manager, then posing more direct objections and engaging in sabotage, and finally by full-scale revolt – or simply leaving the organization. If you have a manager like this, you might consider talking with him or her and pointing out the problems they are causing. But, of course, there’s a risk in that. A narcissistic boss such as this might well turn on you and invite you to leave the organization. But not many people are likely to remain anyway – unless they too are attracted to the brute exercise of power and thrill of the kill. You should probably try an “intervention,” perhaps with others who feel as you do, but at some point, you may simply have to look for work elsewhere. You don’t need this in your life.
I know this is an old, old question, but I'm interested in how you would approach this. Do you think leaders are born or made? I'm 24 years old. Do you think my leadership approach is already set in stone?
I think there are certain skills and certain personal qualities that leaders possess that cause others to follow. Some people just seem to come by these naturally. For example, a friend and a vice-president at the Fruit of the Loom company recently told me: "Bob, people keep coming up to me and complimenting me on my leadership And I don't know what they are talking about. I'm just being me." For this person - and for many others - the basic skills of leadership just seem to come naturally. For many others that's not at all the case. They (we!) have to work hard to develop those essential skills of leadership. But they (we) can do so. So if you think of the skills and personal qualities associated with leadership along a continuum from "not many" to a "whole bunch," there are some people that naturally fall closer to the "not many" end and others that fall much more toward the "whole bunch" end. But wherever you start, you can improve your leadership over time. Now, it takes a lot of hard work - not just reading about leaders or watching leaders perform - but spending careful and extended time in analyzing your own experiences and reflecting in a very personal way about how those experiences might help you become a more effective leader. I say that is hard work because I can't imagine many things more difficult than to engage in serious self-critique and self-reflection. Both challenge our natural tendency to protect our own view of the world; they force us to ask really difficult and personal questions about ourselves; and they can set us on a path to deep personal change - which is, for most, really scary. Leadership is all about "becoming," becoming all that you can be (to borrow a well-worn phrase). It's about becoming a more fully integrated person. So, no, I don't think you are locked into a particular set of leadership skills and qualities when you are 24 or 44 or 64 or 84. Indeed, if you don't constantly change and evolve in your leadership, it's not going to work anyway. Leadership is not static; it has to change. You have to change. To be a better leader, you have to relate to the particular time and culture in which you live. That time and that culture are constantly changing. And your leadership must change as well. In fact, the best leaders are those who can match their personal growth and development with the changing world around them. Ironically, then, those who start the leadership journey with a "natural" set of skills and qualities - those leaning toward the "whole bunch" end of the continuum - may have more difficulty in further developing their leadership than those that seemingly start out somewhat "behind." When leadership comes too easy, it can become petrified - it just seems to work, so why change it? But if you don't constantly develop your leadership - wherever you start - you'll soon become out of touch - and less than effective. Change is all around us - but change has to be inside us as well. At least when it comes to leadership.