Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Personality Type #458: the Authentically Inauthentic Leader

This is one of the most confounding personality types.

This person is leader. Their leadership is driven by charisma rather than competency. They are the proverbial emperor with no clothes. They have panache and charisma which most people don't, and because of that, they often require their followers to have a personal as well as professional connection, sometimes before it's appropriate to do so. When things go wrong, they assume their charm is greater than it really is, and that they can get away with flattery, manipulation and outright lying as they go down. And I wonder if they believe the people around them are so nerdy and needy that they will do anything to remain within their glorious, charismatic social circle.

There is an odd slippery slope here worth addressing. I don't believe people start out this way. It's an accumulation over time. One gets promoted, they get responsibility, people have to listen to them. Slowly, this person's self worth and self importance grows and as that happens, any self awareness dwindles. All decisions become justifiable for the leader, all criticisms are attacks rather than coaching. You accumulate this over time, and a lack of self awareness leads to cognitively dissonant statements where outwardly someone believes they are perfect, but to the people around them, they are anything but. Worse, the over reliance on the cult of personality makes the person increasingly helpless and incompetent, so that they have to resort to dirty tricks and actions with a lack of integrity to get ahead. You know how we thought the pretty kids at school could just use their prettiness to get ahead? Well that's basically what happens here.

Lack of self awareness is a scary thing. Because you play it forward and further forward, and it descends into an actual belief that charisma can carry you through petty manipulations and deceits and ultimately completely unethical behavior. All becomes all right to achieve your end objective. All is presumably forgiven by the admiring masses.

I ponder this because I always worry what the trigger point is. At what point should I know someone else is this person? At what point should I watch myself? I'll throw out a few guidelines and let you all be the judge:

1st: Write positive and negative feedback down and store it somewhere and don't attach names of who gave it to you. Go back to it periodically and just look at it and think about it. Because the tendency is to discount feedback immediately and chances are it's probably right.

2nd: No human being will follow you to the ends of the earth, unless you're a pharoah or a prophet. So you have to assume that they choose to follow you and that at any time that support can be pulled.

3rd: Self awareness is an awareness of you relative to where you are today. That's where people fall apart. They can be self aware in a vacuum of time and space. But these people are leaders, they rise fast, faster than their emotional maturity can match. So they are still practicing the self awareness of 5 years ago, in a role they have now. It's the President Obama problem; ultimately people need the President to represent something to them, and the self-awareness that someone should have is against that; not against who they were as the Illinois State Senator, etc.

This post has been brewing for a long time, and I've always been baffled by this. As I write it, I see at least 6 people I know in this, and I think it's because it's just that common.


Lilac - Like The Flower said...

It's definitely a problem. You describe it very well. It's the ol' greek issue of Hubris. the challenge is that the charisma and the optimism makes them SEEM like they are well fit for the job. The jedi mind trick makes it challenging to get to the truth.

Of course, it's not black and white. Success happens not from the idiots that find their way into these role, but rather those who might be moderately qualified. Just underqualified. Like an ice cream sundae with half a scoop, but a ton of whipped cream - it looks complete.

Capt. BS said...

I've been wondering as well about how people get to the point where they have little to stand on except for their personality and their quickly-fading accomplishments of yesteryear (verifiable or merely notional). There seem to be many paths to this point, including:

(1) The rise and fall of the noble but ultimately flawed Greek hero, as Lilac mentioned.

(2) The career charmer who has, up until this point, always gotten his/her way on charisma, looks, humor, etc., and cannot understand why s/he cannot progress farther by doing the same thing.

(3) A meteoric rise (which, by the way, is a ridiculous expression... have you ever seen a meteor rise? at all?) fueled by a healthy dose of factors unrelated to skill and acumen (e.g. coincidence and luck), combined with a staunch sense of denial, leads to a confused, wheel-spinning burnout.
Symptoms include frequent and emphatic references to the same long-ago achievement ("I personally sold $80 million for Johnson & Johnson in Q3 of 1987!!") and the tendency to rest of these laurels when challenged by anything.

(4) Learning the ropes in a culture that rewards deceit, manipulation, and taking shortcuts, and attempting to transfer this experience to a meritocratic environment.

Constant self-awareness, self-assessment and self-evaluation seems to be the key to avoid getting sucked into one of these trips. In particular, I've noticed that there's a certain sense of entitlement bound to inauthentic leadership, and if you're careful, you can actually feel it start to sneak up on you in moments of panic or weakness... It's kind of like a flash of heat that arcs diagonally across the back of your brain as your vision narrows and you feel the urge to proclaim: "None of this is my problem, and so I will do nothing." Allowing yourself to accept and justify this feeling is the first step over the brink.