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Key leadership characteristics

Key leadership characteristics

Leadership is a journey

As I learned at the INSEAD Advanced Management Program. Leadership is a journey, not a destination. To continue on my personal leadership journey I picked up the book ‘The Leadership Mystique’ from Manfred Kets de Vries. I highly recommend this book. It covers many aspects of what it takes to become/being a good leader. The book does not cover any technical skills, it is focussed on ‘soft’ skills from a psychoanalysis perspective bringing back the person into the organization.

The Leadership Mystique

The book is about what we consider ‘hidden’ or irrational. As de Vries calls it “your inner theatre” the core conflictual relationship theme (CCRT) People act on impulses or on assumptions and forces that either drive or block us. Values and motivations are shaped by our experiences. They either drive or block us.  To become the best possible version of ourself we must overcome these personal barriers and making the irrational rational or the unconscious conscious. Becoming self-aware you will know your own values, emotions, goals, strengths, weaknesses, needs and drives. Overexploited strengths are ineffective and can lead to executive derailment.

The book offers many exercises to give the reader a feel of where they are standing as a leader. The book could well serve as a recruitment guide to the supervisory board when selecting a CEO.

Reading the book you realize that being a good leader requires many skills and adaptability, as no human is an island. Leadership should be seen in context. What leadership style is required in a certain context? Despite the complexity, Manfred Kets de Vries is able to give some general common traits which make a good leader. I will probably return to this book as my reference guide on leadership.

Bear in mind that some people are so effective at their job that as a leader you can do little to make them better (leave them alone), others are so hopeless that almost nothing can be done to improve their effectiveness. The majority of the people are in the middle and they need leadership guidance. So there is still work to do for us as leaders.

Self-aware leader

The key to leadership is to know thyself en know others. Self-awareness and the ability to adapt to context is a key leadership skill. As a senior executive, you need to ask yourself ‘do I get honest feedback’. Your aim is to create a culture where this happens. An interesting concept here is mirror hungry and ideal hungry. As a leader, you may be encouraged by people around you mirroring your excitement. If people mirror you it raises your self-esteem.  The other side is ideal hungry. Ideal hungry people are looking for somebody to admire. Being mirror hungry makes you want to be fed with positive feedback. Team members may compliment you to gain political points are out of an idealizing pattern. Candor flees authority.

Organization style is strongly influenced by the personality style of the leader. The stronger the personality of the CEO, the more his or her way of behaving will be reflected in the culture, structure, and strategies of the firm. Organization styles may mirror individual neurotic styles. Manfred Kets de Vries presents a guide to identify five dominant styles:

Five dominant neurotic styles

Dramatic, Suspicious, Detached, Depressive and Compulsive on an organization, executive, culture, strategy and theme level.

Personal change and organizational change should lead to effective leadership and successful organizations. The two pictures below show what it takes:

Traits of successful organizations

Traits of effective leadership

Your role: Being a bridge and a hub

Other leadership literature refers to the role of a leader as a hub and bridge.

Be the HUB Building Bridges
• Set goals for the team
• Assign roles to team members
• Assign tasks
• Monitor progress towards goals
• Manage performance
• Coordinate work
• Create a good atmosphere inside the team
•Align team priorities with organization goals
• Share critical information
• Allocate resources to achieve goals
• Get support of key allies outside team
• Enhance external visibility of team
• Manage team reputation
• Get recognition for team