Leadership is the magic word spoken around board tables everywhere on the globe. No longer are we supposed to be good managers, we have to be good leaders. Nobody can definitively explain what leadership is and there are schools of thought and definitions abound. Leadership has become a value judgement. Nobody wants to be a good manager anymore; they want to be accepted as leaders. This change in focus is the biggest scam in management thinking of the past decades.
Most literature on leadership discusses the psychology of leadership. A vast industry providing leadership training has developed in the wake of the movement away from management. Leadership coaches promise to transform average hard working managers into great leaders.
At Lucid Manager we don’t get inspiration from management books or leadership programs. We are inspired by the arts, and there is nothing more inspiring than the epic television series Star Trek. The great Mr Spock summarised an important aspect of leadership in the mythic 1966 episode The Enemy Within (Stardate 1672.1):
What is it that makes one man an exceptional leader? We see indications that it’s his negative side which makes him strong, that his evil side, if you will, properly controlled and disciplined, is vital to his strength. Your negative side removed from you, the power of command begins to elude you.
In some management books, this evil side of management is innocently referred to as being Machiavellian. These are people who are willing to sacrifice ethics to achieve specific goals. Although some people believe that this is a necessary condition of being successful, there is no evidence the individuals with a high level of Machiavellianism perform better in their jobs.1
Evil leadership: Snakes in Suits
Paul Babiak, an industrial and organisational psychologist, and Robert Hare, the creator of the standard tool for diagnosing psychopathy, wrote a fascinating book about psychopaths in the workplace, which he called snaked in suits.By the way, you can play our Corporate Snakes and Ladders career simulation if you like some free career lessons.
Babiak and Hare explored the prominence of people with destructive personality characteristics who could be classified as psychopaths. A psychopath does not have to be a knife-wielding mass murdering maniac. Most of them are charming and intelligent, but lack empathy and are willing to sacrifice ethics to achieve personal goals. They can impress in interviews, but their lack of understanding creates tension in organisations, which in the long run leads to reduced performance.2
So it seems that Spock was wrong. Being either good or evil bears no relationship to the level of performance. We should once again focus on good management instead of leadership. The leadership experiment has failed and has not created better organisations. Management is the key to good organisations. Management can be defined, and its outcomes can be measured, while leadership will forever be contested and its effects are unable to be measured.
Live long and prosper!
- Gable, M., & Topol, M. T. (1991). Machiavellian managers: Do they perform better? Journal of Business and Psychology, 5(3), 355–365. doi:10.1007/BF01017707.
- Babiak, P. (2006). Snakes in suits: when psychopaths go to work. New York: Regan Books.