The story of a great parent is inspiring. The story of a dysfunctional one is depressing.
In the last article, we looked at the best version of a Parent Leader, or leaders who excel at paternalistic leadership. The key trait of a great Parent Leader is their ability to take a legacy approach. All the other good traits flow from a leader who has good vision and cares for his ‘family’.
Here are some classic traits of really dysfunctional Parent Leaders.
They never relinquish any authority. Dysfunctional Parent Leaders don’t fully trust anyone to work independently of their wisdom and guidance. Therefore, they never fully give any authority. While they may have several VPs around them, they all much check in with Mom/Dad before they blink an eye. Decisions taken independently are either seen as an act of rebellion or a declaration that you are ‘too good’ for the family.
They are short-sighted in leadership development. Unlike a good Parent Leader, a dysfunctional one will try to keep their ‘children’ dependent on them as long as possible. They rarely invest in the skills of upcoming leaders and do not train them to handle situations on their own. They create a cult around their personality and style that makes it impossible for anyone else to succeed them.
This belief that the next generation is not good enough to offer the same quality of leadership becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. The dysfunctional leader hires those who are less than capable and unconsciously drives away those who have the ability.
They indirectly encourage hiding. If your authoritarian father really disliked one of your close friends, and he asked you whom you went out with last night, would you tell the truth or not mention it because ‘what he doesn’t know won’t hurt him’?
I once worked with some colleagues who consistently planned out what information they would share with the boss and what would stay hidden. They knew the Leader had a tendency to overact to certain things, so they made sure he wasn’t aware of them until absolutely necessary.
They value loyalty over competence. Loyalty’s importance shouldn’t be diminished, especially in the business culture of India, but a dysfunctional Parent Leader values it too much. They surround themselves with people who, although loyal, really aren’t qualified to do their jobs. They promote people into positions far beyond their ability to perform simply because they can be trusted.
Most dysfunctional Parent Leaders distrust people they think might be too clever or smart, and prefer to have people around them who reinforce the idea that the Leader is the smartest one in the room. They hire people who are not qualified, convinced that they can mentor them (read: create dependence), and often undermine the talent of the people they hire.
They glorify the past and bemoan the present. Just like parents who always say “In my day, kids never acted like this…”, the dysfunctional parent Leader thinks the only good days are the ones in the past. They are very critical of new models and processes and prefer things to be back “the way they used to be”. When faced with a leadership or skills vacuum, they will immediately go to existing or former relationships rather than preparing for the future.
They try to sort out all interpersonal issues. While a good Parent Leader will mitigate serious interpersonal relationships, the dysfunctional leader feels the need to fix every interpersonal issue, inside and outside the office. Erben and Güneşer (2008) point out that this kind of involvement often occurs without people’s consent, as the leader thinks he/she knows what is best in every situation.
They are extremely demanding of time. The dysfunctional leader expects all of his employees to be available 24/7. They cannot understand why everyone does not have the same level of investment that they do. They prefer for the company to be someone’s primary identity, especially for those in top management.
Nothing is greater than their intuition. For a dysfunctional Parent Leader, every decision is based on the gut and whims of the moment. They do not follow a clear vision, logic, or strategy, and will greatly frustrate those who are looking for one.
They can be manipulative. Much like a meddling relative, the dysfunctional Parent Leader will play certain people against each other to get a desired outcome. Aycan (2006) sees this as being exploitative for what the Leader deems is good for the family.
Parent Leadership is a style and cannot be considered good or bad, much like the role of a parent. However, there are good examples and dysfunctional ones. Westerners are tempted to interpret any signs of paternalistic leadership as dangerous and counterproductive. However, these two articles should help you separate the good behaviors from the dysfunctional ones.
In the next Podcast, I’ll interview someone who has done a lot of research into this topic. Make sure you subscribe by email or iTunes!
Image Credit: Nishanth Jois on Flickr