You Don’t Know The Power of The Dark Side and Horrible Bosses: DeMarco Banter

grand_moff_tarkinI’ve been doing some light reading this week…light reading usually means pointless reading in usual DeMarco Fashion…books like Death Star by Michael Reeves and Steve Perry (don’t think it is the same Perry of Journey fame…but you never know). The book chronicles the building of the Death Star and career of Grand Moff Willhuff Tarkin.

Combine The Death Star with the Five Characteristics of Weak Leaders a podcast by Michael Hyatt…and it got me to thinking…there is a big difference between evil leaders and bad leaders.

I know that seems intuitively obvious, but how many times do we look at a weak leader and immediately assume he/she is just pure evil…as opposed to simply something less than competent.

Marshall_StalinHistory is full of evil leaders: Josef Stalin, Adolph Hitler, Pol Pot, Idi Amin Dada, and one could argue they were effective as (evil) leaders…Hitler’s aim was to establish a New Order of absolute Nazi German hegemony in continental Europe. To this end, his foreign and domestic policies had the aim of seizing Lebensraum (“living space”) for the Germanic people. He directed the rearmament of Germany and the invasion of Poland by the Wehrmacht in September 1939, resulting in the outbreak of World War II in Europe. Under Hitler’s rule, in 1941 German forces and their European allies occupied most of Europe and North Africa. Of course ultimately Hitler was defeated and committed suicide…but his evil accomplishments required a great deal of leadership.

One might see an evil leader come up with concepts such as the “Tarkin Doctrine” which emphasizes ruling “through the fear of force, rather than force itself.”

But a weak leader is something all together different… a leader who is incompetent, scared, and usually very worried they will be found out to be…just that…a weak leader. Michael Hyatt uses General George B. McClellan, commander of the “Army of the Potomac” and, eventually, first general-in-chief of the Union Army as his example of a weak leader. Hyatt notes poor leaders suffer from five flaws that appear consistently in weak leaders.

Flaw #1: Weak leaders hesitate to take definitive action.

Flaw #2: Weak leaders complain about a lack of resources.

Flaw #3: Weak leaders refuse to take responsibility.

Flaw #4: Weak leaders abuse the privileges of leadership.

Flaw #5: Weak leaders engage in acts of insubordination.

Not to pile onto Hyatt’s flaws, but I might add:

DeM Point #1: Self-delusion. As humans we tend to overestimate our skills. Be aware that we might be self-aggrandizing. If we don’t understand our strengths and weaknesses we can quickly kid ourselves into believing we have no room to improve.

DeM Point #2: Heedlessness. Simply not taking heed…those in “power” are watched carefully by their subordinates. Do we reciprocate? Don’t forget to remain curious about and engaged with our direct reports. Build a culture of caring and family–everyone wants to contribute and everyone has a story–get to know your folks.

DeM Point #3: Insulation: We need to create a culture where dialog occurs and is encouraged. How do folks feel about bringing you bad news? Is the messenger lauded or shot on sight? Over-communication is key to any successful leader.

We all have our strengths and weaknesses… let’s focus on our strengths and partner with team members and direct reports to compliment our weaknesses. AND… when we look around us today… don’t mistake that weak leader for an evil leader…


3 Replies to “You Don’t Know The Power of The Dark Side and Horrible Bosses: DeMarco Banter”

  1. I like the three points you had added, Bill. My question is, “How do you safely go about pointing out these flaws to the poor leader and making them conscious of their shortcomings?” By “safely” I mean in a way that does not kill your career. Or is the best tactic to get the heck away from them? Thoughts?

    1. Roger: Great point…I wish I had a clear answer. I believe this is why leadership development is so important. We need to help young leaders become self-aware and then offer “touch points” throughout their career where they can get feedback. LID was/is such a project where a young leader learns early on where her strengths and weaknesses are and then has the opportunity through Professional Military Education (PME) as a Captain to refocus on those and see where he has improved or regressed… and again as a major and then again as a LtCol or Col. Combine that with a 360* feedback program the Army and GOs are looking at… perhaps we can build a culture where we don’t see these things as often.

      Now…that takes time (a little bit of money) and not every culture or business will have such tools…and at that point, I would have to say it depends. My success rate on bringing such issues up as been abysmal. If a leader is leading at an upper-level position and has not received such feedback…he/she is pretty sure that they are doing great. So self-delusion/absorbed, heedless, and insulated as been rewarded to this point…no? Your feedback will probably not be well received unless you are perhaps a friend and have observed this type behavior throughout a career.

      My thoughts…we have to get ahead of this turn in our development programs and build a culture that reinforces those values. But I am only on my first cup of coffee…

      Looking forward to your thoughts as well Roger…

      1. Healthy self-awareness is a characteristic of authentic leaders so I think you have put your finger on the target. A bit of pro-activeness on the part of the individual is necessary as well. A bit of “self-help” advice which has been repeated and repackaged by all of the best sources is this… “Establish your personal advisory board”. Membership should be extended beyond friends and include mentors, teachers, peers, subordinates, etc..

        For Authentic Leadership, the advice is to establish and nurture your “Support Team”. Team members are people who appreciate you for who you are, not what you are. With these people, you can be open and vulnerable. They offer advice, perspective, affirmation, and calls for course corrections when needed. The team starts with at least one person with whom you can completely be yourself – usually a family member, partner, spouse, etc. In an Authentic Leadership measurement tool I have used, the attribute “Self Awareness” is defined as “The degree the leader is aware of his or her strengths, limitations, how others see him or her and how the leader impacts others?”

        Maybe part of your future leader selection interview / assessment should include a focus on the candidate’s personal advisory board / support team (or lack thereof). Do they have one? How is it “staffed”? How is it nurtured? What have been some of the learning coming out of the group?
        If your candidate has such a functioning group, s/he is already ahead of the game. If your candidate does not have a clue what you are asking, or worse, states that s/he doesn’t need such a group, then maybe this isn’t the best candidate.

        Can and should this be taught in a college leadership course? Yes. However, because it is about the execution, not the theory, that delivers results, it should also be coached. This means an iterative and interactive process over a period of time to ensure that the desire behavior, ie. building and valuing that team, is observed. Maybe a nice idea for your LID program?

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