Hello Everyone,
Leaders do many things others couldn't get away with and cannot understand. And each time a leader "gets away" with something, there's an erosion of credibility. In The Taboos of Leadership, Anthony D. Smith argues we need to examine leadership with a process-oriented approach. We need to talk about leadership taboos objectively—not as hot buttons to be avoided.

Leadership Taboos:
Exploring Credibility

Leaders are charged with getting things done through others, so we allow them great leeway. We expect our leaders to exert power, manipulate people and engage in political gamesmanship. We acknowledge their luxury perks and generous benefits. After all, most work extremely long hours. When they tout the merits of equality, collaboration and work-life balance, it's often a case of "do as I say, not as I do."

So, which leadership style is right for a given situation? A caring boss may be effective, but a forceful, demanding one sometimes gets the job done more expeditiously. An effective coach will help leaders focus on what they need to do to advance their agendas and help others realize their potential. But competing priorities often surface, forcing executive decisions that may be incongruent with traditionally held leadership theories.

Three Arenas of Leadership

We can view the leadership process from three critical vantage points: the arenas in which the leader intersects with followers, the organization and himself / herself.

Each arena is replete with taboos — the paradoxical ideological standards we say we embrace, but on which we sometimes don't follow through. Whenever there's a discrepancy between theory and practice, there are taboos that aren't openly discussed.

Let's look at three leadership taboos found in these arenas: persuasion, position and the person.

Taboos of Persuasion

Reaching one's intended goal requires influence and persuasion skills. Years ago, influence was largely a function of position. Today, we understand the process of leadership has veered away from strategies like positional power, authority, manipulation and coercion.

Influence happens when leaders use their credibility to make an impact on people. Credibility is achieved through:
Conviction: The commitment leaders demonstrate toward their vision

Character: Consistent demonstration of integrity, honesty, respect and trust

Care: Concern for others' personal and professional well-being

Courage: Willingness to stand up for one's beliefs, challenge others, admit mistakes and change one's own behavior when necessary

Composure: Consistent display of appropriate emotional reactions, particularly in tough situations

Competence: Proficiency in hard (technical, functional, content expertise) and soft skills (interpersonal relationships, communication, teamwork, organizational skills)
The taboos of persuasion reveal the gap between theory and practice. First, we're taught charisma shouldn't matter, but highly effective leaders have great magnetism. We don't like to admit we're drawn to those who have charisma (but we are), and leaders don't want to confess to cultivating it (but they do).

Second, some experts claim leaders should be open books, completely accessible and honest about their vulnerabilities. In reality, power, manipulation and political gamesmanship are critical to effective leadership.

Taboos of Position

In the knowledge economy, we theorize about dissolving the barriers among organizational levels. We ask our leaders to be more humble, collaborative and communicative than the traditional figurehead in the top office. And yet, we adorn our leaders with the status and trappings of power and position.

There's a fundamental dichotomy at work here. Leaders need to reduce their followers' degree of doubt. In a way, the intimidating trappings of position work to inspire awe and remove uncertainty.

And while we assert that leaders should be more collaborative and collegial, employees continue to send a different message: They want more direction, guidance and influence—not less.

We may say leaders aren't supposed to have all the answers, but we expect them to act as though they know exactly where the organization should be going. .

The Taboos of the Person

When facing the work-life balance conundrum, leaders are the least capable of finding the right balance. Nonetheless, we expect them to be role models. Unfortunately, most leaders know no boundaries when it comes to the line between work and life.

We also believe leaders should be servants of the organization, putting aside their own needs for the greater good. Too often, however, leaders demonstrate behavior that's narcissistic, ego-driven or selfishly motivated.

The Credible Leader

Each time there's a gap between what a leader says and does, credibility is undermined. Over time, it erodes followers' desire to be influenced.

Leaders are told they needn't have all the answers and should feel comfortable surrounding themselves with highly talented people. Leadership gurus tell us it's not important to be the smartest, most capable person in the room; rather, it's better to have the smartest, most capable team. But leaders are rarely so self-confident that they'll allow others to see them as vulnerable or less capable.

Leadership is a process through which those at the top get the most out of people for a sustained period, no matter what it takes. A leader must take a stand on difficult topics and walk the talk.

As in all aspects of leadership, and even with the taboos we've discussed here, there's little room for gaps between what leaders need and how they go about obtaining it.

Final Thoughts:

Acknowledging taboos is great, but it doesn't solve the problems. We fail to confront reality because we want to avoid the painful social anxiety we feel when breaking a taboo.

Executive coaching provides a good first step in addressing these taboos. An effective coach can help you determine the source of the problem: Is it you? Is it your leader? Is it the organizational culture?

With a coach, you can talk about the taboos that are holding you up, whether it turns out to be persuasion, position or person.

Spend some time this month exploring leadership with your coach. Here are some questions to ponder and discuss.

What kind of a leader am I?

How do I express my leadership?

How can I be a better leader?

Who am I leader for?

If I can help you find answers to these questions please drop me a line or give me a call.

Coach Jerry


The highest compliment you can give us is to refer your family and friends.

Jerry Pinney

For the last twenty years Jerry has been president of his own firm. He has spent his career helping small business organizations grow and succeed. He has a passion for success that he shares with his clients. His current focus is providing executive and personal coaching to persons who are interested in improving their effectiveness and their ability to be successful. He is a facilitator for peer advisory groups with The Alternative Board and is a Certified One Page Plan Consultant. Jerry has facilitated planning retreats and planning sessions for many organizations.

Jerry’s experience includes serving as Vice-president of Marketing for IGA staff office, Vice-president of membership for the National Grocers Association, Sr. Vice-president of procurement for Shurfine International and the Managing Director of The Zenon Hansen Foundation.

Jerry is an Eagle Scout. He lives in Chicago with his wife Terri. Jerry spends his volunteer time as a coach and consultant for The Executive Service Corps of Chicago, an organization committed to help the non-profits in the community improve.

Jerry Pinney & Associates
102 East 32nd Street
Chicago, IL,
phone: 312-842-4577,
fax: 312-842-4705

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