by Mike Myatt
Have you ever wondered why organizations tolerate dysfunctional leaders? The answer is dysfunction is so prevalent it’s often not even recognized as problematic. Many corporations just desire leaders to go along and get along more than they desire them to lead. It saddens me to articulate this next thought – corporate leadership is rapidly becoming an oxymoron.
Think of those you know in a position of leadership, and if you know what you’re looking for, you’ll find they are likely not a leader, but a risk manager. When leaders become conformists who desire to control instead of surrender, they not only fail to inspire and challenge, they fail to lead. Leadership has become synonymous with babysitting in many organizations, which does nothing more than signal a lack of trust in the workforce. I can think of no time in modern history where employees feel less valued and trusted. Remember, a leader’s job is not to place people in a box, but to free them from boxes.
It’s not difficult to find signs of leadership dysfunction in most organizations – all you have to do is open your eyes. Most businesses eventually reach a point of what they refer to as maturity – I call it institutionalization. This phenomenon occurs when blending to the norm sadly becomes the norm. The larger an organization becomes, the more acceptable mediocrity seems to become. Therein lies the problem; leadership exists to disrupt mediocrity – not embrace it.
When history offers its commentary on the evolution of modern business practices, the surprise storyline will be that corporations have been engaged is systematically killing leadership – they are unwittingly participating in leadership genocide. The so-called advances in organizational design theory have been so grossly over-weighted toward risk management, organizations are now built to prevent failure rather than encourage success. Real leaders don’t possess an unhealthy fear of failure – they encourage team members to take risks.
When process becomes more important than people, when collaboration is confused with having a meeting, when potential is held in higher regard than performance, and when independent thinking takes a backseat to conformity, leadership is dysfunctional at best. Leadership simply cannot be engineered according to the mass adoption of a set of rules (best practices). Leadership is about breaking the rules to discover change and innovation (next practices).
What passes for acceptable corporate leadership has regrettably become a watered down, commoditized, politically correct version of the real thing. Until organizations reject those playing leadership and embrace those willing to challenge the status quo, offer new thought, encourage dissenting opinion, and who desire to serve instead of seeking to be served, we’ll continue to see organizations struggle unnecessarily.