Insecure leaders are big liability to organisations


  • Business
  • Thursday, 29 May 2003

SUN TZU's Management Leadership, a weekly column by Dr. Ong Hean-Tatt

Leaders who have no real talent for the hard work of a leader have a hidden inferiority complex. They are defensive, tend to exaggerate their so-called good qualities and achievements, and hide the deficiencies. Which is why they crave for flattery, which gives them a false sense of assurance of their worth. 

They would suffer from emotional instabilities, which would ruin the organisation. 

There are five dangerous faults which may affect the general: Recklessness, which leads to destruction; cowardice, which leads to capture; a hasty temper, which can be provoked by insults; delicacy in honour, which causes sensitivity to shame; overly compassionate for his men, which exposes him to worry and trouble. These five faults in a general are ruinous to military operations. If an army is defeated and the leader killed, the cause could be found among these five faults. Let them be a lesson to meditate on. (Sun Tzu 8:12-14) 

These leaders would shout out statements like “Nothing is impossible”, “I don’t care how you do it; do it”. They want fast results, not knowing many things take time and effort. Knowing so little, they will be reckless in doing things. 

They are bold when they start things but would not know how to complete them. They do not brush up on their act as real leaders and are nothing better than reckless slogan shouters. 

These leaders with big egos are defensive and will throw their temper at anyone who implies the contrary. If things are well, they will take the credit. If things go wrong, they will get angry and scold and blame others. It is a self-defence mechanism to avoid focusing attention on them. 

Such leaders are also prone to flattery and rascals could get close to and manipulate these leaders merely through fanning the bloated false self-images of the leaders, who can become rather childish and naive. Such leadership would end up by liking those who praise them and disliking those who criticise. Then, there would be promotions for the useless flatterers and discrimination against sincere, capable people. 

Not having the true wisdom of a leader, these false leaders will surround themselves with their favourites who know how to flatter them. There will be favouritism, nepotism and discrimination. When the favourites are in trouble, their patrons will be blind to their faults and will bend the rules to find excuses to release them. 

Anybody else will find justice swiftly administered, but not the favourites. These favourites will cause endless further trouble, distracting and weakening the organisation. This kind of leadership will destroy organisational cohesiveness and effectiveness. 

Such leaders have no loyalty to their men. When the battle is on, they will be safe in the rear. Should the battle go against them, these leaders will be the first to flee the battlefield. 

They would not go out to the battlefront to lead their men. In many ailing corporations, where cost cutting adversely affects the ordinary workers, top management often continue to give themselves more wages and benefits. The ordinary men and honest officers will resent the biased treatment, and become demoralised, if not rebellious. The men would not rally wholeheartedly behind them. The organisation would be demoralised and divided, and half the battle is lost. 

There is also another aspect to this emotional instability in leadership. Unable to foster true co-operation, some top leaders who seemed initially close to each other would fall out with each other. It will start with attempts to out-manoeuvre each other and there will be cliques. 

Then open in-fighting will follow. Everyone would throw legal suits against each other. Such in-fighting may become so bad that even family members and close relatives would fight each other. Thus, many large corporations suffer from prolonged fierce in-fighting, which must necessarily distract from concerted efforts towards organisational efficiency and productivity. 

Leaders are supposed to foster organisational cohesion so as to achieve excellence. In failing to be united and maintain cohesion among their men, such leaders show themselves to be emotionally immature. 

Leaders have to learn to understand and accommodate each other to demonstrate unity among themselves, otherwise how can they deserve to lead others in the organisation? 

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