Monday, October 26, 2009

Reverse Role Models and Their Exceptions

Many of us have reverse role models. We can recall individuals who exemplified terrible leadership, poor judgment, and frighteningly bad people skills. In a number of those cases, we vowed never to be like that individual.

Which is all to be good, with one caveat. Doing the direct opposite of the jerk or the loon may put us in equally dubious territory. In order to determine the proper path, we must dissect the poor behavior and identify just where and how the person crossed the line.

This takes time - too much for those who want comic book simplicity - and yet the process can be enormously rewarding. Analysis is further complicated by the elusive factor of personality. One person can succeed beautifully with an approach that would spark a riot if used by another. Consider this description of a famous leader:

Anyone who served anywhere near him was devoted to him. It is hard to say why. He was not kind or considerate. He bothered nothing about us. He knew the names only of those very close to him and would hardly let anyone else come into his presence. He was free with abuse and complaint. He was exacting beyond reason and ruthlessly critical. He continuously exhibited all the characteristics that one morally deplores and abominates in the boss. Not only did he get away with it but nobody really wanted him otherwise. He was unusual, unpredictable, exciting, original, stimulating, provocative, outrageous, uniquely experienced, abundantly talented, humorous, entertaining - almost everything a man could be, a great man.*

All of which illustrates that leadership is far more than a mere checklist of mannerisms. It can achieve its greatest heights when dusted with a mixture of poetry and personal magic.

[*Sir George Mallarby, Undersecretary in the Cabinet Office, commenting on Winston Churchill.]


Eclecticity said...

VERY INTERESTING. I wonder if Bob Sutton (The No Asshole Rule) would qualify the Bulldog himself. Or give him a pass, the whole saving Western Civilization thing...?

Michael Wade said...


"The whole saving Western Civilization thing."

I love it!