A Very Inconvenient Truth about Global Leadership
It has been two years since I last wrote and posted my “monthly” blog on this website.
I could come up with some great story about being abducted by aliens for extensive brain draining or orchestrating a humanitarian relief operation in a flood ravaged corner of the world.
The reality is much more mundane but no less powerful or instructive.
Since January 2014, I have been more than busy supporting my daughter as she has been wading through the nerve-wracking shoals of her senior year at high school and first semester in college.
On a professional level, I have been trying to help global leaders navigate the treacherous waters of economic pressures, regulatory clampdowns, organizational politics, team dysfunction and personal trauma.
And on a societal level, I have been observing the seismic shifts in geopolitics as China, Russia and the USA have been playing out a bizarre new version of the Cold War while terrorists, narcos and madmen massacre innocent civilians from Mexico to France to Syria.
There is a key theme that runs through all of the above activities but it is one that is rarely recognized, acknowledged or discussed. It is what I would call “Institutionally Sanctioned Bullying”.
On college campuses and even high and middle schools in the USA and beyond, many young women and people of color live in fear of gender-, race- and religion-based aggression and attack, often while educational leaders do little of practical use beyond delayed knee-jerk responses.
If you don’t believe me, watch the shocking documentary “The Hunting Ground” or read Ta-Nehisi Coates award-winning book “Between the World and Me”.
In the workplace, leaders don’t just rise to the level of their own incompetence but also to a point where they become tinpot dictators who can make lives truly miserable for all of those around them and get away with it. Sometimes for years.
Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic’s recent HBR article on “Why Bad Guys Win at Work” makes compelling reading. He mentions the “Dark Triad” of Pyschopathy, Narcissism and Machiavellianism. Know any bosses like that?
And around the world, both self-appointed and elected political leaders abuse, browbeat and even torture the very people that they are meant to be serving, protecting and inspiring. And not just in the Middle East. Hal Marcovitz explores the history and implications of political abuse in his recent book: “Exposing Torture: Centuries of Cruelty”
There are many causes for these linked behaviors and as a conscious but empowered man, I tend to focus on what I would call “Masculine Imbalance”.
I am careful not to say “Male Imbalance” because this type of behavior is not just exhibited by men. Although it is mostly the case.
Some of this imbalance may be biological but then I am no expert on testosterone and such.
But I believe that much of it is systemic within existing societal and organizational cultures.
A case in point was last Spring when I began the first in a series of coaching engagements with mid-level woman leaders at a few different globalizing companies.
This first coachee was an extremely smart, dedicated and passionate team leader who had a reputation of always getting the job done but burning personal bridges along the way as she was a perfectionist who could and would not suffer fools or failure.
Early on in our six-month engagement, she invited me to observe her facilitate the last day of a week-long large team meeting. She was obviously on best behavior. She did interrupt some people and ignored some others but overall, she was very gracious, inclusive and efficient.
Towards the end of the day, a much more senior male leader joined the meeting and displayed exactly the same kind of boorish, domineering and dismissive behavior that she had been accused of. And worse.
But no one complained about him. He was just being a “strong, proven leader with executive presence” in a highly masculine organizational culture where aggression and exclusion are not only condoned but praised and prized under the euphemisms of assertiveness and distinction.
So should she still try to change the behavior that she displayed outside the meeting? Should he change the behavior that he displayed inside the meeting? Should the organization they work for change its culture to eradicate such bullying masculine behavior by anyone and promote a different way of leading and getting results?
Clearly, the answer to all three questions is: YES!!!
But this is obviously much easier said than done.
The next blog will focus on what can be done to correct “Masculine Imbalance” and end bullying on an individual, organizational and societal level.
And hopefully, it will be written and actually appear on this website well before early 2018.
In the meantime, may I wish each reader a very happy, healthful and balanced New Year.