10 Taboos of Leadership Exposed
It’s important to be respectful of history and even cherish it; but living in the past can be stifling and oppressive. So it goes with taboos, some of which are with us out of respect for culture and tradition; others because they hang around like old vines that strangle new growth. Taboos can polarize and alienate. We can reduce some of their power by first understanding and openly acknowledging that they exist. If taboos of leadership are holding our organizations and leaders down, they should be pruned back and weeded out, allowing our organizations and leaders to grow in new directions.
Taboo 1. We Know What Leadership Looks Like (But We Don’t Know What It Takes)
Despite all of the effort we’ve put into explaining leadership, we still don’t understand its true nature. In our attempts to create formulas and answers, we have invented sanitized and stylized theories (“the conscious leader;” “the servant leader “). As a result, we have developed a tendency to overlook the realities of what leaders do, and why they do it.
Taboo 2. Charisma Shouldn’t Make a Difference (But It Does)
Like it or not, charisma plays a critical role in what we have come to see as leaderly. People who posses charisma have a certain "magnetism" that involves vision, passion, confidence, communication skills, mystique, and the ability to identify with their followers. Such leaders add a transformational quality that serves to attract and inspire employees throughout the organization.
Taboo 3. Real Leaders Don’t Play Politics (They Take It Very Seriously)
Politics is not a necessary evil in the leadership game -- it’s just plain necessary. No leader achieves his or her goals without playing politics. Politics is the air leaders breathe and an important source of an organization’s energy and dynamism.
Taboo 4. Women Make Better Leaders (When That’s What They Really Want To Do)
Enough women are making an impact at the “C” level that no one can label them token representatives anymore. But while things may look better in terms of numbers, something still isn’t quite right below the surface. Most women really don’t want to be leaders to the same degree as men; nor are they compelled to do all that it takes to reach the top.
Taboo 5. The Double Standard is for Cavemen (And the Corner Office)
Is there anything more toxic in today’s organizations than the notion of the double standard? Yet the double standard is standard to executives. As talented experts in a specialized field, they create value that far exceeds the salaries they earn. They also give up many aspects of a “normal” life in service to their organizations and therefore deserve the additional perquisites they command. As a capitalist society, we must understand this concept (however begrudgingly).
Taboo 6. Thou Shalt Not Play Favorites with Friends and Family (Except When It Makes a Lot of
One of the touchiest issues in corporate life is the role of favoritism. Is it more important for a leader to surround himself with the best people, or the people he feels comfortable with and can trust? The rationale for favoritism and nepotism can be uncovered by considering the real nature of leadership. Leaders are human: they’re vulnerable, and thereby put a high value on trust, predictability, and support.
Taboo 7. A Leader’s Fundamental Duty is to Groom a Successor (But It Hurts Like Hell)
Today’s leaders generally understand that they are stewards of an organization with an obligation to eventually pass the reins to the next generation. They’re comfortable empowering themselves, but have difficulty empowering others. Succession planning is the most difficult task of all -- it forces leaders to confront the moment when they’ll cease doing the most significant thing in their lives.
Taboo 8. Leaders Need to Demonstrate Work-Life Balance (No Problem, Work is Their Life)
Leaders are fundamentally unbalanced because they love what they do and live to accomplish something important. Yet they often face pressure to demonstrate better work-life balance in order to set a healthy standard in their organizations. If they’re happy and healthy, leaders can’t allow others to calibrate their work-life balance scale. But companies need to be clear about expectations for all employees upfront.
Taboo 9. Blatant Self-Interest is Dangerous (In Followers, Not Leaders)
Leadership is rooted in the urges of blatant self-interest. The most effective leaders tend to be the ones who do whatever it takes to achieve their own, selfish agenda. Ethics and principles have to be a part of the business equation; they are tools that leaders use to be more effective. And often, blatant self-interest is good business, benefiting a lot of people in the process.
Taboo 10. It’s Lonely at the Top (But Leaders Wouldn’t Have It Any Other Way)
During the workday and at the end of a long career, it is the leader who is irrevocably left alone. Yet, a leader needs distance from others in order to be effective. The sense of disconnection has an impact, and leaders often use aloneness as a psychological tool. Being put in a position of ultimate authority is easier if one is alone. Yet the discussion of loneliness may be the ultimate taboo.
Copyright © 2007 Anthony F. Smith