Don’t be this as a leader

Don’t be An Arsehole

August 28, 2019

By: Russell Overy

Working in leadership development I often get asked what one leadership quality I would advise people to adopt and my response is always centred around the same theme.

Don’t be an arsehole!

By this I mean don’t be a leader who spouts about your own qualities, metaphorically puffs out your chest, intimidates, bullies or threatens the people you lead or uses aggression (or even passive aggression) to get the results you need or never admits and owns your mistakes. These are not behaviours that deliver sustainable results and you will be found wanting.

So, what should you strive to be?

Personally,  look to my role models. Fortunately, I’ve had the pleasure of working with some great leaders, both in and outside of a work environment and the traits they all have in common made me feel safe to go to them, challenged to be my best self, helped me develop and held me accountable for my results.

The best manager I ever had, did exactly the opposite of the behaviours above.  She was humble, present, mindful of my potential, knew my strengths and played me to them rather than trying to develop my weaknesses.  It’s only years later that I can look back on my time working with her and fully appreciate that she created an environment for me, and the rest of my team, to not only do our best work but to be fully engaged in our work and the organisation we were part of.

Her philosophy was that her job was to do everything she could to get her people promoted above her.  This may seem counterintuitive, even self-limiting for her career, but it never happened.  Not because some of us weren’t good enough but because the organisation recognised that the environment she created was extremely powerful and effective.

When she moved on up from leading my team we were all happy for her but at the same time, sad to see her go. Having a leader whose philosophy was to serve and support her team and the individuals in it was immeasurably beneficial for me and my career.

On the other hand, like most of us I’m sure, I have also suffered the indignation of working with managers who do none of these things.  The reasons behind their choices of behaviour could be wide-ranging from not having a good managerial role-model themselves, not being exposed to quality leadership training and coaching programmes all the way through their own insecurity, fears, and self-doubts.

All of this, of course, comes at a financial cost to the organisation.  Having to recruit new people to replace those who leave because their manager is unbearable. To demonstrate this, a recent Gallup survey of over 7,00 adults, unsurprisingly revealed that 50% of employees left their job “to get away from their manager to improve their overall life at some point in their career.”

You may be able to empathise; I know I can. I once left a job I generally enjoyed because of an individual manager who, no matter how much I had tried to influence and ‘manage up’ to, just couldn’t grasp that their methods of getting things done may have delivered short term achievements but at the same time destroyed team morale, any feeling of engagement that existed and alienated all 12 members of our team.  Four of whom, including myself, resigned within 3 months of working this manager.  When 30% of a team resigns in a week a red flag is not just raised but waved violently in the face of senior management.  The manager was gone a month later.

Leadership is not about micro-management, using positional power to get things done or being the ‘Boss’! It is about creating an environment in which your people can thrive.  An environment where the leader is able to provide clear direction to individuals and teams, be available when needed, coach their team members and ensure development pathways are open to them.

Leadership is about engaging and motivating people to be the best they can be.  Sometimes their best won’t be good enough and that’s where real leaders come to the fore.  Getting the most of out of individuals and using team strengths to deliver exceptional results time and time again.

So, make your choice.  Be a leader.  Don’t be an arsehole!