Many leaders are done in by their inability to recognize the poisoners in their system.
This has been a very political year with scandals, elections and now a leadership campaign in the offing. All this has me thinking back on my days as a member of Parliament and the role of leadership and how that role affects others.
Most of us think of political leaders from an emotional perspective – do we like him or her? Can we relate to them? But really, political leaders are very far removed from your everyday life and what he or she does affects you in an impersonal way. In spite of this, many of us feel their actions as if they were directed at us individually and those actions can create emotional reactions in us.
Think of the impact then, if you are part of the elected team of people that surrounds the leader. Because politics is so compellingly personal, every glance, ever nuanced word, or worse, no word at all, has a profound effect on each individual, especially those who are young and impressionable or socially insecure in the first place.
An encouraging word from the leader can send an elected member into a state of near euphoria. A careless or critical word can plunge them into despair. Being ignored creates a gnawing anxiety. Being lectured by a third party in the name of a leader creates anger and resentment.
All of these states prevail for only so long. If not soon relieved, disillusionment eventually sets in. Rumblings of discontent begin to bubble to the surface. Sooner or later, real problems erupt within the circle. Sometimes a person will leave the caucus. Sometimes, he or she may resign all together. Sometimes, the public becomes involved if the disillusioned one is spiteful or wants revenge. This can spell disaster for a government.
We can all see somewhat recent evidence of the truth here. In the Selinger government, not one but five MLAs broke ranks and tried to replace their leader. In the last Trudeau government, several members crossed the floor and two resorted to a public quarrel with their leader. This spelled the beginning-of-the-end for both and although Trudeau was re-elected, it was with a very reduced caucus in a minority government. Now we see Andrew Scheer given short shrift, not because he lost the election, but because of his style of leadership, according to some behind the scenes. This happened even though his caucus continues to support him.
So what contributes to this erosion of trust in our leaders internally? Why do some leaders expose themselves through the way they lead to this very real danger? The answers are complex. Even so, the ultimate answer is often a flaw in the leader’s personality: it may be due to a self-image that leads them to be ungenerous with sharing limelight. It could come from an innate fear and insecurity, or adversely, an overweening ego. Sometimes it is due to a sense of entitlement or personal arrogance. Any of these can affect the capacity to lead effectively.
The leader may be a brilliant tactician, may have a clear vision for the end goal, and have many other fine leadership qualities. But if those personal skills are lacking, the end result will always be sad.
The best leaders have enough self-confidence to trust others but understand that this does not mean they can abrogate the personal responsibilities to others. Good leaders talk to their members, know what is happening to them personally, express empathy, and never send a messenger to correct the member if he or she is doing something the leader does not like.
Weak leaders are also subject to manipulation by self-interested personnel around them. These narcissists collect around leaders like flies around honey.
These are the professional whisperers – those who cast doubts on the character and personality of anyone they see as a threat to their own tiny kingdoms. In politics, that word can be very slight, just a little comment here or there, questioning loyalty or motive. Insecure leaders listen and adapt these doubts as their own. These are the same leaders who are most susceptible to flattery from these professional whisperers. This manifests as trust in the flatterer followed by a bitter word to the member or some sly innuendo about the loyalty of the member by the leader.
Sometimes the leader just plain shuns and ignores the slandered member, passing them over for preferment or even removing them from a coveted position.
To shore up their kingdom, the sycophant sees that a few weak and harmless individuals are brought into favour, while the capable and once loyal members are gradually weeded out from the herd and relegated to the sidelines.
Often these sidelined members are the ones that had the guts to stand up and say nay, who give strong and reliable advice – and who are quick to sniff out the flattering sycophants.
By now, the leader will be isolated (for his own good, of course) so that very few have access to him or her unless the sycophant gives the signal.
The sycophantic flatterers don’t stop by destroying competing members. Their ultimate goal is the leader himself. I have seen leaders publicly misstate the truth and unknowingly damage themselves and their own credibility because the sycophant has lied to them for whatever reason. If caught out, it is never the sycophant’s fault, of course.
Strong leaders know all this. They despise butt kissers. They slough off the snide whispers or, at the very least, accost the maligned individual and ask for an explanation, an action which usually clears up the problem immediately. Strong leaders don’t allow themselves to be herded into an isolated corner. They seek out advice from outsides, look for opportunities to meet with their members, widen their circle to double check everything they are told.
Hopefully, this knowledge may shed some light on your own situation even if you are not an elected member because these “political” events are practised in many work places, too.
The take away? Leaders are just human beings. The really good ones are few and far between and if you find one, cherish him or her. As for how to deal with those who don’t measure up? Do what a strong leader would do. Accost him. Ask what you’ve done to offend him and how to fix it. This usually clears the air – until the next time, at least.
If you are a leader reading this, do some introspection and ask yourself if any of this applies to you. If it does, take the time to fix it.
Before they start looking for a new leader.