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book excerpt

A bad 'leader' is really just a boss Add to ...

This excerpt is reprinted, with permission of the publisher, from Real Leaders Don’t Boss © 2012 Ritch K. Eich, PhD. Published by Career Press, Pompton Plains, NJ. 800-227-3371. All rights reserved.

Leader Versus Boss

Unfortunately, many self-professed and corporate-appointed “leaders” are little more than bosses. Some have a few hours of instant leadership training. Others claim they are in the position because of their “natural knack” for the job, and still others simply find themselves saddled with the responsibilities.

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Sadly, any brief or extended training aside, the end result is still a boss and not a real leader.

Throughout my four-decade-long career in a variety of sectors reporting to all types of decision makers, I have seen all kinds of chief executive officers – good and bad – in action. I also have dealt with a few bosses who were philanderers, racists, bullies, and egomaniacs with anger-management problems. Many were intellectually bright, but their behaviours undermined the success their organizations could have achieved with real leadership.

For example, one philanderer had an executive assistant who he insisted be promoted despite her incompetence. It turns out she had filed a sexual discrimination suit against him. Another executive took office parties as a licence to dance cheek-to-cheek with employees. It seems he also had a reputation of playing around after hours with his staffers.

Consider how the approach and behaviour of a real leader differs from that of a boss when it comes to a few key workplace issues:

  • Corporate success: A leader focuses on long-term results and positions his or her company for ongoing success. A boss is too concerned about the next quarter’s bottom line to have a big-picture perspective.
  • Employees: A leader is a champion for his or her employees. A boss sees employees as a means to an end.
  • Communication: A leader connects directly with the board, shareholders, customers, suppliers, and with the employee base, and takes the time to listen and respond in a thoughtful and humble manner that values all these people. A boss pays lip service to employees but is more focused on his or her own well-being.
  • Respect for others: A leader shows congeniality and respect to everyone regardless of rank. A boss is pleasant and charming to executives, while indifferent or demeaning toward those he or she supervises.
  • Conflict resolution: A leader recognizes that conflict is inevitable at one time or another. He or she deals with it by channelling it to constructive ends. A boss often creates conflict but fails to deal with it effectively.
  • Behaviour of managers: A leader prohibits demeaning, disrespectful, or verbally abusive behaviour from his or her managers. A boss ignores that kind of behaviour and may exhibit it himself or herself.
  • Respecting the personal life of an employee: A leader recognizes that employees enjoy a private and personal life outside of the business and appreciates the need to maintain a work/life balance for well-being and productivity. A boss overloads his team with many tasks and impossible due dates, then micromanages them.
  • Getting the job done: A leader works to remove obstacles for his or her employees, provides the necessary resources, and expedites processes to make it easier for others to accomplish their jobs. A boss creates roadblocks that get in the way of the job, lead to pointless extra work, and create unnecessary frustration.

The ugly executive

The Ugly American by William J. Lederer and Eugene Burdick (W.W. Norton, 1999), originally published in 1958, was required high school reading when I was in school. It describes a character who has little sensitivity toward or interest in others. Little did I realize at the time that later in the workplace I would meet head-on the ugly American’s cousin, the “ugly executive.” A leader’s primary responsibility is to articulate a vision and establish a set of strategies that unleashes the creativity, freedom, and individual potential of the work force. The behaviour of the “ugly executive” drains an organization of critically needed energy, strength, creativity, passion, and loyalty, and threatens essential relationships with key constituencies.

Unattractive behaviours

Who are these ugly executives we all have likely encountered at one time or another? In many cases their egomaniacal actions drag their companies down with them. Here are a few of the most offensive traits and the behaviours associated with the ugly executive:

◆ Lying. An organization’s CEO tells one of his managers that her employment contract for the new fiscal year is somewhere on his desk, but he isn’t exactly sure where it is specifically. Time passes and no contract materializes, so the manager asks again about her contract. This time, the CEO snaps at her, “Well, you’re getting paid, aren’t you?” The manager asks the HR department chief about the contract, and she honestly tells the manager that the president has not requested they draft a contract for her.

◆ Egotism. The leader of the C-suite directs her executive assistant to call the hotel where she plans to stay on an upcoming business trip and to secure the largest or most impressive suite of rooms. If it is not up to her standards in size or opulence, she will demand another hotel.

◆ Arrogance. Several company employees are on a commercial flight or company plane, and the executive among them sits apart from the others and ignores them for the duration of the flight.

◆ Tyranny. At the last minute, the boss decides to have lunch in his office and commands an administrative assistant to go outside the building to get his meal. After he is finished eating, he chastises the assistant for the “poor quality” of the meal as he shoves the food tray away in a demeaning manner.

◆ Romantic liaison. One CEO wanted to hire a young woman he was sleeping with (he was married at the time). Her credentials didn’t match the criteria for any vacant jobs at the company, so he created a new executive position by combining elements from the duties of other vice-presidents. The young woman was unable to do the work, so the vice-presidents got their assignments back. But the woman remained on the payroll as “an executive without portfolio.”

◆ Racism and/or sexism. The company chairman periodically invites his vice-presidents, all of whom are white males, to his favourite restaurant for lunch, and proceeds to rattle off a string of racist and/or sexist jokes. The company’s ethnic make-up – as well as that of the managers – reflects the CEO’s biased attitudes, too.

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