In the media driven world that we live in many leaders are in the spotlight, displaying the characteristics that we associate with great leaders. But what are those characteristics? Inspirational, confident, innovative, charismatic, hardworking, conscientious, the list goes on.
These characteristics are all strengths that leaders demonstrate and are key elements of why they are good at leading others. Leveraging their strengths on a daily basis is core to how they operate.
Strengths that become Derailers
But what happens when they overplay these strengths? What does it look like and what impact can it have? How do these leaders behave when they are under pressure or stressed, and how do these leadership traits and the corresponding behaviours manifest themselves?
A good example of where a core strength becomes a derailer of leadership has been demonstrated by some of our world leaders and politicians.
Former President Trump comes across as a very confident and bold leader. He speaks with authority and assertiveness, and this approach convinces many that he is right. This boldness has served him well, he has many followers and his first election results reflect the success of this leadership style. However, this self-assuredness and inner belief can become a limiter and a derailer when things start to go wrong. Bold leaders become demanding, intimidating and overestimate their results or talent. They become poor listeners and ignore critical feedback. They may believe that they are above the law - this self-belief can be intimidating to others who are fearful of being honest in their feedback. These leaders often are surrounded by followers who fail to be honest with them or critical of them and so the derailer plays out further.
At the other end of the spectrum is the leader who is supportive and loyal. They appear courteous, agreeable, and pleasant. They appear to be a good team player and can be loyal supporters of good people and causes. They follow the rules and are dutiful and cooperative. President Biden, current USA President, is a good example of these traits. However, when these traits are overplayed they can become limiters. Loyal leaders when under pressure can lack substance and the ability to push back, to challenge or to make unpopular decisions. They prefer to keep the peace and to smooth things over. This lack of action again can stifle progress and mean that others get away with poor behaviour and real issues are not dealt with promptly. These types of leaders are initially popular and well liked however their longevity can be short as frustration can set in within their teams or followers.
President Putin also has leadership strengths particularly in his intensity and energy for his initiatives, missions and ventures. He can also be very astute and alert to others motives or problems. When under pressure these strengths turn to derailers and this type of leader can become moody, inconsistent, volatile and unpredictable. Their ability to be astute and shrewd now turns to a mistrust of others and they can become highly suspicious, vengeful and spiteful.
Other examples nearer to home can be seen in some of our British Prime Ministers. Boris Johnson was very popular with many and secured a strong election result. He leveraged his leadership strengths of being charming and interesting, he adapted quickly to change and was comfortable taking risks. However this approach started to catch up with him where the uncalculated risk taking and pushing the limits was discovered. The negative side of this personality strength often results in these leaders not being truthful and they may find rules boring, they also are less likely to express regrets for failures or they tell untruths to get away with their mistakes.
Highlighting the Risk of Derailers
Identifying the likelihood of the leaders in our organisation to display these derailers can be very useful. There are patterns and trends linked to personality that can help to identify the likelihood of an individual displaying these derailers of leadership. Using specific personality questionnaires to help highlight these traits can be incredibly valuable when used in the recruitment space, in leadership development and in building high performing leadership teams.
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