Would you like to have an insecure boss? Probably not. Yet, our admiration for confident, charming and ambitious leaders has its problems, too. Although these traits do much to propel people to positions of power, they can, at times, also bring on failures and should be considered risky assets. Sooner or later, self-confidence turns into arrogance and an unrealistic sense of immunity. Ambition turns into greed and prioritizes self-interest over the interest of the team or the organization. Charm is used to manipulate and fool followers, who may keep trusting their managers longer than they should. Consider the following examples:
- Remember Groupon? In 2010, it was hailed as the "fastest growing company ever," and most of the credit went to founding CEO Andrew Mason, who rejected a $6 billion bid from Google in 2011. Ambitious? Sure. But Groupon is now worth less than half and Andrew Mason is jobless. Likewise, most startups are fueled by the world-changing dreams of highly ambitious entrepreneurs, yet 70% of them are destined to fail and less than 5% may ever grow substantially. In order to succeed, leaders must learn to manage their ambition.
Changing the Face of Leadership
Next time you find yourself admiring managers for their intense charm, confidence, and ambition, remember you are probably looking at a future failure. The myth of the charismatic CEO is still alive despite recurrent attempts by academics and social commentators to debunk it. In any organization, industry, and country, the higher you go in the managerial ladder or power hierarchy, the more mischievous, arrogant, and psychopathic people are.
Selecting leaders on their competence rather than confidence, altruistic vision rather than ruthless ambition, and paying less attention to charisma, will promote both organizational effectiveness and social well-being. This will require a radical change in our views of leadership. It will require more companies paying more attention to the humble, low-key, and polite employee who’s potential for leadership may be higher, but is not as immediately outgoing.
Until then, the very traits that help employees advance their careers will often also contribute to an eventual downfall.
[Image: Flickr user Kelvyn Skee]