Given the rewards that most corporate leaders receive these days (an average of over £3million plus bonuses) you might think this is a stupid question when the average wage is around £27,200 ($41,840).
However Roger Jones, a consultant, says ‘Leaders’ unconscious personal fears affect their performance, that of their team, and that of their company‘ according to Carly Chynoweth’s column in the Sunday Times business section.
The number 1 fear, according to the Academy of Chief Executives, is the fear of being found out – or imposter syndrome.
Other fears include worrying about being able to repeat past successes, not living up to past successes in a family business, and losing friends as they get promoted (did no-one tell them it can be lonely at the top?).
These fears can lead to bad decision-making and a loss of perspective. They may also result in poor inter-personal behaviours such as rudeness, problems with anger management, and lack of consistency with their teams.
Unfortunately for the business such behaviours can be emulated by junior staff who think its OK to do it because the CEO does it.
60% of the leaders questioned in Jones’ research (published in the HBR) said their executive teams were affected by fear, that there was an absence of honest conversations, excessive politicking, and a willingness to tolerate bad behaviour.
Executive search companies say they see these behaviours with newly promoted executives at second or third tier. A partner at one of them believes that the growth of psychometric testing might eventually identify those with problematic traits so they can be dealt with where possible (The Hogan series of psychometrics includes on which identifies elements of the dark side triad i.e. sociopathy, narcissism, and machiavellinism).
Jones is also optimistic. “Most leaders can manage their fears. Those who are self-aware are more understanding of what dysfunctional behaviours they may have and they can try to prevent them happening”.
One of the most effective approached is helping leaders develop their emotional intelligence – from improving self-awareness and self-control to managing relationships better.
Of course a lot depends on the culture of the organisation. If your company has an open and helping culture where feedback is freely and honestly exchanged some of these issues might never arise.
And there is some evidence that CEOs who are more guilt-prone can make better leaders.
According to research at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business it’s people who are more guilt prone who make better leaders.
Using the TOSCA (Test of Self-Conscious Affect) and performance ratings Francis Flynn and Rebecca Schaumberg found that those employees with higher levels of guilt were also the ones with the higher performance evaluations.
They were also seen as more committed to the organisation and seen as stronger leaders by their peers.
Even stranger you might think is the fact that there were also more likely to accept redundancies as being necessary for the company and carry them out. They may feel guilty about it but they can rationalise layoffs in the interests of the organisation. So they see the bigger picture.
Previous research has shown that being conscientious is a good predictor of employee performance and an important element in effective leadership and recruiters often look for stable extraverted personality types. This is the first research to suggest that employing people who are more neurotic has advantages for the employers.
And you might think that behaving in this way might have a downside for the individuals but according to Flynn they are no more stressed than other employees and don’t have lower levels of job satisfaction.
It seems that there is also a connection between guilt proneness and altruistic behaviour in terms of giving to charities and helping out colleagues.
The research was carried out in a Fortune 500 company’s finance department so may not be applicable in other functions. But it’s intriguing and if you believe that we should have more diversity in terms of personality variables you will probably welcome it.
Source: HBR Jan-Feb 2011 issue