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 objectivelynot as
hot buttons to be avoided.
Three Arenas of Leadership
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.
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 Ś 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
Influence happens when leaders use their credibility to
make an impact on people. Credibility is achieved through:
Conviction: The commitment leaders demonstrate toward their
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
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
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
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 influenceŚnot 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
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.
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
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.
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For the last twenty-two
years Jerry Pinney has been president of his own consulting firm.
Currently he focuses his efforts on providing executive and personal
coaching to persons who are interested in improving their quality
of life and consulting to small and mid-sized companies and nonprofits.
He is a facilitator for peer advisory groups with The Alternative
Board and is a Certified One Page Planning Consultant. Jerry has
over three decades of experience in the food industry, and possesses
a unique perspective of customer service, marketing and strategic
planning. In addition to overall general management qualifications,
Jerry has proven expertise in operational planning and business
development. His food industry career started at Jewel Food Stores
followed by a long career with IGA, with their retailers, wholesalers
and ten years as Vice President of Marketing. In addition Jerry
has served as Vice President of Membership for the National Grocers
Association, Sr. Vice President of Procurement for Shurfine International
and Executive Manager of The Zenon Hansen Foundation.
Jerry has also served on a number of
nonprofit boards including: President of the Volunteer Center
of Northwest Suburban Chicago. He is currently a Project Manager
for the Executive Service Corps of Chicago. Jerrys ESC assignments
have included coaching for several Executive Directors, and consulting
on various Board Development projects and on a number of strategic
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