10 Misleading Leadership Theories

Leadership is not an ethereal concept. It’s not as cinematic as you might think. It is about one simple and profoundly human thing--Influence. In this episode Tim and Junior breakdown 10 misleading leadership theories and how to avoid them.

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Episode Show Notes

Leadership is not an ethereal concept. It’s not as cinematic as you might think. It is about one simple and profoundly human thing--Influence. In this episode Tim and Junior breakdown 10 misleading leadership theories and how to avoid them. It's a straightforward and practical episode focused on core leadership lessons we can all learn from.

(13:32) Leadership is not about charisma. Just because you have a personal magnetism, dash, and style it doesn't make you a leader. Charisma can be deceptive and superficial. Don't let charisma be the only qualification for leadership.

(15:50) Leadership is not about eloquence. Eloquence, like charisma, can be deceiving. The question is "see what's behind them, what lies underneath those traits, because if what lies beneath is high quality, it's high character, it's good ethics, it's all of those things, then absolutely, add charisma to the pile, add eloquence."

(22:03) Leadership is not about power. Your position, title, and authority cannot be proxy for leadership. "This is a diagnostic question that anyone can ask, and that is when you're looking at leaders, ask the question, "Is there fear around them? Do they produce fear? Do they use fear? Are they cultivating fear?" Fear is symptomatic of poor leadership.

(26:31) Leadership is not about seniority. The passage of time "does not translate into greater experience, knowledge, expertise, competency, all of those things."

(29:57) Leadership is not about scale. You are not by virtue of the fact that you're working on some important scalable issue, then by extension and by affiliation and by association a great leader.

(32:08) Leadership is not about popularity. "The danger, I think, as leaders is when we're aiming at popularity." Oscar Wilde said, "Popularity is the penalty of success." Popularity can insulate you from critique. "You enter an echo chamber."

(35:29) Leadership is not about fame. "You can see how people get to this point of thinking that popularity is synonymous with leadership. "Oh, this person has a massive following, right? They must be able to lead." That's certainly not true."

(37:47) Leadership is not about winning. We do want our leaders to be competent but, "if you're framing leadership is about winning, then that's a zero-sum adversarial frame. You can do better than that."

(39:32) Leadership is about wealth. We cannot judge someones ability to lead simply by the number of zero's in their bank account. Wealth is not a proxy for leadership.

(42:38) Leadership is not about education. Simply having a degree or credential doesn't make one a leader. We do want highly competent people in leadership positions. However, gaining competence alone does not endow you with the ability to lead.

Some people possess all of these things and are not leaders. Others possess none of these things and are. These 10 things only point to the possibility of leadership, but make no promises.

Important Links
Leading with Character and Competence - Book
10 Things Leadership is Not - Download

Psychological Safety
Podcast Series
Stage One: Inclusion Safety
Stage Two: Learner Safety
Stage Three: Contributor Safety
Stage Four: Challenger Safety
Overview: What is Psychological Safety
Bonus: What Psychological Safety is Not

Episode Transcript


0:00:01.9 Producer: Hey, Culture by Design listeners. It's Freddy, one of the producers of the podcast, and today is part three in our final episode in our mini series on leadership. Today's episode is titled 10 Misleading Leadership Theories. And many of you know Dr. Clark from his book "The Four Stages of Psychological Safety" and our work on psychological safety, but it was not his first book. In fact, some of what you will hear today references an earlier publication by Dr. Clark titled "Leading with Character and Competence," which we will link in today's episode show notes. Remember, leaders have the primary responsibility for setting the tone and establishing workplace culture. I hope this episode will help you see leadership with more clarity as it applies to you in each of your unique roles. All important links and references from this episode can be found at leaderfactor.com/podcast. Thanks again for listening. Enjoy today's episode on 10 Misleading Leadership Theories.


0:01:08.8 Junior: I'm here with Dr. Tim Clark, and today we'll be making a foray into a more general leadership topic and give you our two cents regarding something near and dear to us. Today we wanted to spend some time discussing the 10 Misleading Leadership Theories. CS Lewis said, "Bad philosophy needs to be answered."

0:01:28.5 Tim: So what we're saying Junior is that there's some bad philosophy out there.

0:01:31.9 Junior: There is.

0:01:32.8 Tim: Yes, we are. We are saying that, and we're gonna share that with you. And it really does need to be answered. We can't let it go unanswered. That's why we're gonna have this episode, really.

0:01:43.3 Junior: Not that we have the answers to every question, but we do have a unique take that we wanna share with you. So we're gonna give you a small window into how we view the world of leadership without answering bad philosophy as it were. People go away often confused and discouraged, and that's the motivation for today's episode. We hope to clarify and encourage. In a book that we'll talk about a little bit later, another one written by Tim, he said, "Leadership is not an ethereal concept. It's not as cinematic as you might think. It is about one simple and profoundly human thing, influence."

0:02:17.9 Junior: And then you go on to say that it's not about just any kind of influence. And I'm gonna pull a quote here that I really love to kick us off, "It must aim at something good, something noble, something that builds, lifts and makes better." "In its purest sense, leadership is about influencing people to climb, stretch and become. And it's not about the scope of your stewardship. Influencing the one is just as worthy as influencing the many." True words. And for all of you listeners out there, you are leaders, and at least we hope that is your aspiration. It's a journey that we're all on that we wanna talk about today. So, Tim, how are you feeling about today's topic?

0:02:56.4 Tim: Well, I'm excited about it. This is near and dear to my heart, so I'm excited to jump into this.

0:03:01.4 Junior: You've said in the past that leadership doesn't have a home. What do you mean by that?

0:03:06.2 Tim: Yeah. It doesn't have a home. So think of a university. Think about going to college and studying leadership. Where are you going to find that, the study of leadership? Where are you gonna find it? If you look at the way that colleges or universities are organized, we cut up the world, the body of knowledge into disciplines, right? And we have all these different disciplines, and we have borders between them. And we have departments, and who owns leadership? That's the question. Who owns leadership? Answer is a lot of departments claim leadership. The business school claims leadership, and the engineering school claims leadership. And social and behavioral sciences claim leadership, and the humanities and the performing arts claim leadership. Everybody claims leadership. Here's the answer.

0:03:54.6 Tim: Leadership doesn't have a home. As a discipline, it doesn't have a home. It cuts across all of the disciplines. It lives above all of the disciplines. So isn't that interesting? It doesn't have its own home because it traverses the entire body of knowledge and every applied discipline that there is. Further, we would make this claim that leadership is the most important applied discipline in the world. Why? Because if you think about it, it's a factor in every decision and every outcome. So show me a discipline that can make that claim or a greater claim. I can't see one. So leadership as a field, as a field of study, as an applied discipline occupies this unique space above all of the other disciplines that we have. That's amazing. That's worthy of some reflection.

0:04:55.0 Junior: It's fair to say because it's above or cuts across all of these disciplines that it's garnered some attention over the years, and people have come up with, we'll call them theories we're gonna talk about today. And they've created some absurd theories. And sometimes we've celebrated some of the absurdities that have come through the name of leadership, haven't we?

0:05:15.8 Tim: Well, we have. Leadership as a topic, as you say, it's crowded with absurd theories, and we have celebrated those absurdities. May I begin with one, Junior?

0:05:28.1 Junior: Go for it.

0:05:28.9 Tim: Okay. So I wrote these words years ago. Now consider the oppressive myth that leadership is about title, position and authority. These things are merely accessories. In this world, we elect presidents, appoint CEOs, and in about four dozen cases still crown kings and queens. But there is no coordination of leaders in the true sense of the word, To robe yourself in the outward vestments of a leader does not make you one. That kind of equipment is visible evidence of power, but please do not mistake it for leadership. The formal conferral of authority no more makes you a leader than a black turtle neck makes you the CEO of a tech company. Rank can only hint at the possibility. That's all. So that's how we're gonna begin our discussion today, I think, Junior. Title, position and authority do not constitute leadership. Now, we're gonna go deeper into this.

0:06:33.7 Junior: And I'll put with a quote from Daniel Defoe that I really like from the 1600s, speaking of crowns, "Titles are shadows. Crowns are empty things." This is a quote from your book "Leading with Character and Competence." We're gonna pull a few things from that book today. Many of you are probably familiar with the four stages of psychological safety, but there are other volumes in the library. So go check those out. Leading with Character and Competence is one of my favorites. So one of the questions that I wanted to ask you today, Tim, is about the organization's name, Leader Factor. Tell us a little bit about that. Why is the name of the organization Leader Factor? You could have chosen any number of things. You went with that. Why?

0:07:16.6 Tim: As I said a minute ago, Junior, leadership is the most important applied discipline in the world. It's a factor in every decision and every outcome, and so I just put those two words together, leader and factor. And I thought, "Ah, that's it." Because that really is the independent variable that matters the most when we think about cause-and-effect relationships in the human world. So that's what we settled on. So there is meaning behind it. There's a lot of reflection behind that name.

0:07:45.4 Junior: I've been thinking a lot about leadership and leverage and influence, and leverage put simply is the difference between your inputs and your outputs in a given system. What do you put in? How's it affected? And then what do you get out? And I think about the leader factor, so we use the noun factor or variable or input or you could use other words. The leader factor is a big one, and if the leader factor is poor, you're gonna have poor outcomes. If it's healthy, it's vibrant, it's competent, it's high character, you're gonna have good outcomes. So what is leadership then if it's not titles and crowns? Thomas Mann said, "Order and simplification are the first steps toward the mastery of a subject."

0:08:31.2 Junior: I love that quote. So we need something simple. And you put forward that leadership is influence, and we've talked about that quite a bit. So then the question is, "How do you exercise leadership, or how do you exercise influence? How do you generate positive influence?" And what we've come back to time and time again is the primary mechanism of modeling behavior. And your example is the way that you live and breathe, the way that you behave every day. That is the most effective lever that we have, and there's a quote that I wanna read from Albert Bandura: "Most human behavior is learned observationally through modeling. From observing others, one forms an idea of how new behaviors are performed, and on later occasions, this coded information serves as a guide for action."

0:09:18.6 Junior: So much of what the average person knows about leadership comes from what leadership they've seen, and if that's been good, chances are the coded information is good and healthy. If it's been poor, chances are it's poor, and that's important. It may seem basic, but I was thinking about that for just a little bit. If you haven't been exposed to high-quality leadership, it's probably mysterious to you, or it could be, and perhaps this is more likely, that you define it differently than we would. Let's put it that way. And so I think that that's part of the purpose of today's episode, is to dispel some of the myths surrounding leadership and to debunk some of these theories so that we can all get on the same page or at least have a common definition of what leadership means.

0:10:11.1 Tim: Yeah, let's come back to, you said that leadership is primarily about modeling behavior. It's about example. This highlights the distinction between showing and telling. So ask yourself the question, "Which one is more powerful in teaching your leadership? Those that show you how it's done or those that tell you how it's done?" And clearly, as we talk to people, interview people, watch people, showing is a more powerful way to teach leadership than telling, and often there's a gap. There's a knowing-doing gap that we have anyway, right? We're not showing, based on what we know, and so that leads to then cynicism, pessimism. We get jaded about it. And so we need to think about how powerful showing is versus telling as we teach leaders. By the way, some of you who are listening may be thinking, "Let's see. Have I really had any great mentors in my career?" And chances are that you've had maybe some, but not a lot.

0:11:27.7 Tim: You may also think to yourselves, "Well, I've had some leaders that have taught me by modeling the opposite of what to do." We call that reverse modeling, and ironically, that can be a very powerful way to learn leadership. It's ironic, paradoxical, because they're teaching you the opposite of what to do, but if you're paying attention, you can see their modeling behavior, and then you can see the consequences of that modeling behavior. Based on that cause and effect relationship, you can say to yourself, "That doesn't work very well. I don't think I'm going to do that." That's reverse modeling. So we do see a lot of that in life, and we have to pay attention to that. But again, showing is much more powerful than telling.

0:12:14.2 Junior: So we're going to go through 10 things that you may have seen reverse modeled, as Tim said. After we go through these 10 things, we're gonna come back to the core principles of leadership. We're gonna talk about character and competence, and we're gonna talk about the spectrum of influence that we have from manipulation to coercion and then the healthy middle. So let's dive into these 10: 10 Misleading Leadership Theories. The first one is that leadership is about charisma.

0:12:44.3 Tim: Junior, before we jump right into that first one, I wanna talk a little bit about the pattern that we see in society over the years, and you may be able to relate with this. We jump from one leadership superstition to another. We are be bedeviled by trends and fashions. We've changed the hues and views to fit the situation. We've made leadership oftentimes overly complicated, and we keep patching these theories that are not accurate. And so we're gonna go through 10 that are misleading in many, many ways. So I just wanna set the stage for jumping into these 10. So here we go.

0:13:32.7 Junior: Number one, leadership is about charisma. If you have personal magnetism, dash and style, you are a leader. I see this one everywhere where people think that charisma and leadership are synonymous. They're not. Charisma in isolation can be a very healthy thing. It can be a very useful thing. It can come along with warmth and being personable and welcoming. Energy is another word that I think of, and those can be wonderful things. But when you conflate charisma with leadership, it starts to get dangerous because charisma can be superficial. Charisma can be deceptive. And so if that's true, then it's not always necessarily the case that charisma is attached to leadership, good leadership. Yet we see people follow charismatic people, and that charisma can be enticing. There's something magnetic about charismatic people. Humans generally like charismatic people, but we can find ourselves in sticky situations if we look just for that.

0:14:42.7 Tim: That's really true, Junior, and that would be what we call the dark side of charisma. So you may have the magnetism. You may have the panache. You may have the style. The problem is that your intent is not pure. And so if you don't have the good faith and the pure intent to go with that skill or ability of charisma, then that becomes the dark side of charisma, and it leads to selfish ends and destructive ends. So we have to be very careful about that. I think over the past few decades, I think we have... I don't even know what the cost would be. I don't know that we could quantify it as organizations, as we have witnessed organizations chase charisma because they thought it was synonymous with leadership. The negative price that we've paid is something that we can't quantify. So we have to stop ourselves and say, "Hang on. Am I getting sucked in to the vortex of charisma? And am I seeing clearly?" Because we can make very poor decisions if that's what we're chasing.

0:15:50.0 Junior: So keep an eye out that leadership is not just about charisma. Okay, number two, leadership is about eloquence. That's the second misleading leadership theory. If you have Tertullian powers of expression, you're a leader. And this is another one where eloquence in and of itself is not a bad thing. Perhaps in a vacuum, it leans positive. You would rather be eloquent than not. However, there are some danger that along with eloquence. It can be a gift, and it can be a curse. And it often leans away from simplicity. It leans away from being direct and clear. Eloquence can complicate unnecessarily. Often in leadership, we don't need flowery language.

0:16:37.1 Junior: We don't need unnecessary detail. We don't need some of those other things that may sound nice but lack substance. And so again, eloquence can be deceptive, and it can be superficial. So what you have to do with some of these traits, both of these, charisma and eloquence, is kind of peel back those layers and see what's behind them, what lies underneath those traits, because if what lies beneath is high quality, it's high character, it's good ethics, it's all of those things, then absolutely, add charisma to the pile, add eloquence. That's great. It'll probably help everything that you have. But if you're not built on a strong foundation, then those things become very dangerous, which we'll talk a little bit about later.

0:17:28.9 Tim: That's right, Junior. Let's think about the standard of communication that we have, especially in organizations. The standard of communication is that we communicate in a way where it's impossible to be misunderstood. That's really the goal. So my primary goal is not to give you a literary experience. That's not my primary goal. My primary goal is to make it impossible for you to misunderstand because what we're trying to do is we're trying to align people behind certain goals and objectives, and that's not an easy thing to do.

0:18:05.5 Tim: And so think about what that requires on the part of the communicator. Do we want more ornate language or more unadorned language? I think we want simple, plain-spoken, lean communication that is impossible to misunderstand because that communication has to be built often, especially in large complex organizations. It has to be built to travel and to avoid errors and distortion as it travels. We need high fidelity in the messages that we send out. High Fidelity means what, Junior? Do you remember that term? Do you have any old vinyl, by the way?

0:18:46.8 Junior: I do.

0:18:46.9 Tim: [laughter] Do you?

0:18:49.4 Junior: I actually do. Yes.

0:18:51.6 Tim: You have a turntable too, don't you?

0:18:53.4 Junior: Yeah.

0:18:54.1 Tim: Okay. Remember that old term. What does high fidelity mean?

0:18:57.7 Junior: High Fidelity means as close to the source as possible, so what was originally recorded and intended. The lower fidelity, the farther away from the original recording we move, and the same is true in your messaging. And so I love the point about scalability. It needs to be able to travel. That's something that I think I personally underappreciated in the past, and I'm seeing that simpler is 99 times out of 100 better, especially in the organizational context. Now, you have to understand some of my background. I love literature. I love some flowery language every once in a while. I love Thomas Hardy.

0:19:39.7 Tim: You love Thomas Hardy, don't you? Yes.

0:19:41.2 Junior: I do. And many people would read Thomas Hardy and say, "Well, that could have been said in a paragraph, and it was 20 pages." A different job, a different job that we're doing. And so if in an organization, your objective is not entertainment but alignment, your tools change, your inputs change, you make different decisions because the objective is different, naturally.

0:20:08.3 Tim: Right.

0:20:09.0 Junior: And so when you put together communication, think about that, "Is this going to travel?" More recently in our organization, we've been asking ourselves the question, how does it translate in a literal sense? Okay, we've got all of these languages that we need to account for, so when we put something on paper, does this translate? Is there some cultural nuance attached to this that's going to be a liability in translation? How can we say this most simply so that people do not misunderstand? And so that is what we're aiming at, as Tim said. We want to be impossible to misunderstand. Simplicity is key.

0:20:50.4 Tim: It really is. It makes me think of a phrase by the columnist Peggy Noonan. She said, "Often what we're looking for is a masterpiece in compression." And I love that because we have to ring it out. We have to ring out our language. We have to move from secondary to primary terms. We have to get rid of the ambiguity so that we can get to the clarity, and that's not easy. You all know the statement that's been ascribed to so many people that, "I would have written you a shorter letter, but I didn't have time." Right? And that statement has been ascribed to many different people. I don't know who actually originated the statement, but it helps us understand that the clarity is deceptive. It takes a lot of work to get to achieve the compression, to get to the economy of language and the clarity of language that we need to align people. It's not easy to do. It requires extra work as you ring it out, as you distill out what the message is. There's a lot there, Junior.

0:22:03.9 Junior: There's a ton there. That's number two. We got more. Okay. Leadership is about power. If you are a CEO or a bemedalled general, you are a leader. Tell us about this one. Open this one up, Tim.

0:22:16.9 Tim: Well, this is about formal authority or positional power. This is about rank. This is about station. And what we're saying is that we're using that as proxy for leadership, that those who have achieved, who have amassed, who have acquired power, that somehow makes them a leader. Well, that can be extremely misleading. I think we all can see incumbents to positions of power all around, and they're often very poor leaders, but somehow they've made it into these positions. So we have to check ourselves. We have to be very careful as we interpret this. Power is not a proxy for leadership. So again, this is a misleading theory, a misleading idea that surrounds leadership very, very often.

0:23:15.4 Junior: One of the things that you can do in this realm is to look at the incentive structure that surrounds the hierarchy. That's a very interesting thing to do. What does the hierarchy or the organization incentivize when it comes to rank and position and power? And so what you'll often find is that the organization itself is not suited to incentivize good leadership. That may sound crazy, but if you look at the incentive structure, maybe we are incentivizing other things. As a very simple example, who usually gets promoted inside, I guess, really any function? The individual contributor that's the highest performer, right? We're looking at technical expertise.

0:24:02.0 Junior: We're looking at output. We're looking at some of these things that we can quantify. What role does leadership, competence play in the ascension through an organization? More often than not, it has actually very little influence. And so that's something to understand, to look around. Who's getting promoted inside these organizations? What has to be done to rise to the top? And sometimes not only is it not good leadership, it's counter. Some of the things that are incentivized are counter healthy culture. They're counter character. And so just a little tidbit there. When you're looking at organizations and hierarchies, positions of status, what had to happen in order to achieve that? It's not always bad, but many times it is, something to be aware of.

0:24:55.7 Tim: Junior, let me add one thing. And this is a diagnostic question that anyone can ask, and that is when you're looking at leaders, ask the question, "Is there fear around them? Do they produce fear? Do they use fear? Is fear pervasive in the environment? Are they cultivating fear?" The reason this is a helpful diagnostic question is because fear is symptomatic of poor leadership by definition. If there is pervasive fear, it's the first sign of weak leadership. What does it say? What it says is that that leader or group of leaders, that leader is using fear as a proxy for leadership. Instead of leading, they're using fear as a substitute. Well, fear is not leadership, and it's not a substitute. So it's really a cop-out. I just say that to give you a tool, a diagnostic question to help understand what's happening. If that leader is generating fear, pushing the fear button, then that's telling you a whole lot.

0:26:11.0 Junior: One of the things to look for in this area is competence. Power and competence are not synonymous. Sometimes they're correlated in a healthy hierarchy. Maybe they're more correlated than not, but as hierarchies decay and become dysfunctional as is almost the inevitable end, those things become distant from each other. Okay, let's move on. Leadership number four is about seniority. If you have outlived everyone else, you are a leader.

0:26:41.5 Tim: Oh, this is a good one.

0:26:43.1 Junior: One of the questions is, "Is there anything inherently valuable about your tenure?" I think this one's really interesting. Depending on the organization, this gets weighted more or less, and we know some of the industries or sectors that weight tenure heavily. But is there anything inherently valuable about the tenure? No, nothing inherently valuable. It can correlate with some wisdom because of the experience, but it's certainly not causal.

0:27:12.6 Tim: Well, Junior, as you say, tenure is simply the passage of time. And there are plenty of people that go through, they achieve tenure, longevity in an organization, but what have they been doing during that time? And maybe not a lot, right? It's been passive observation instead of active participation. So the passage of time does not translate into greater experience, knowledge, expertise, competency, all of those things. It doesn't necessarily translate. That's simply the passage of time. So this time-in-grade mentality is dangerous for at least a couple of reasons, number one, that it's misleading and it suggests that you have grown and developed and acquired this experience and knowledge and skill.

0:28:04.5 Tim: Number two, though, the problem with seniority is that it also... And it just seems to do this everywhere, it seems to cultivate an entitlement mentality. "Hey, I've been around. I've got 10 years in. I'm 15 years in. I'm 31 years in." There's an entitlement mentality that seems to come along with seniority, this time-in-grade, as if you're entitled to certain things. Now, I wanna be a little bit delicate here because I think there is some deference and some respect that is due to people that have invested and have been dedicated in the organization and have made a great contribution. I mean, no disrespect. This is not intended to be a disparaging remark at all. All I'm saying is that you can also see the negative side of this where seniority does lead to an entitlement mentality, and yet the experience and the knowledge and the wisdom and the judgment, it's not there.

0:29:11.2 Junior: There's a Stephen Covey quote I really love. He says, "Some people say they have 20 years experience when in reality they have one year's experience repeated 20 times." And so that could be the case. It could be the case that you have 20 years experience, and you've been actively engaged across those 20 years. In that case, deference to you. We're going to listen. If you've repeated one year 20 times, maybe not so much. So take tenure with a grain of salt.

0:29:37.0 Tim: Well, you're in a state of equilibrium.

0:29:39.1 Junior: That's right.

0:29:40.0 Tim: And that's your choice, but you're kind of stuck. And you're in a cycle of obsolescence, and you're probably very worried that you're going to be found out. That's what happens there. Because you're being overtaken by events in the context around you.

0:29:57.8 Junior: Number five, leadership is about scale. If you work on the important issues of the day, you are a leader. Tell us about this.

0:30:05.6 Tim: This is a good one, isn't it? This is very interesting. So what we're saying is that by virtue of the fact that you're working on some important scalable issue, then by extension and by affiliation and by association, you are a great leader. I think there's a natural tendency for human beings to associate scale with leadership. "Oh, well, if you can work on something that is this important, that has this kind of scale, then you also must be proportionate in capability to the scale." There's kind of this transfer of logic to you that says, "You're equal to the task." Well, you may not be equal to the task. That's what we're saying.

0:30:56.4 Junior: Well, how many big issues across organizations in the world have we seen fumbled at the highest level with massive consequences. It would seem that that competence would float to the top, that the leadership would float to the top, not always true. But you can see how it would be enticing to think that. It makes sense if you think about it for half a second, and then it doesn't. But you can see how that's alluring.

0:31:20.7 Tim: Having said that though, we also have to acknowledge that as the, for example, the needs of an organization grow and change as the organization itself scales, then there is also a consequent requirement for the leader to do the same. So the leader needs to scale their influence and impact. They need to become a force multiplier as well. They need to learn to apply leverage in the organizational sense. That's what the organization is requiring of them. That's what organizational scalability requires of the individual leader, but what we're saying is, that's not necessarily the case even though the organization needs that.

0:32:08.3 Junior: Yeah. So we are saying that you can be a leader, regardless of what you're working on, regardless of the stage, regardless of the issue or your position. There's opportunity for you to be a leader. Next we have leadership is about popularity. If everyone likes you, you are a leader. This one's interesting because popularity can follow success. Popularity can follow competence. The danger, I think, as leaders is when we're aiming at popularity. Oscar Wilde said, "Popularity is the penalty of success." Now, I don't know if that's overstated. Maybe it is, but you can see that he's getting at something, that there's something negative or the potential for something negative.

0:32:54.9 Junior: And I mean, his quote, it's outright negative, a penalty of success. Success can come with a price. Sometimes that price is popularity. So what does popularity produce? What could he be getting at? Perhaps he's getting at the fact that you become isolated in an ironic sense. You become insulated. You enter an echo chamber. You have an entourage of people who tell you what you want to hear and nothing else. The feedback loop breaks. So popularity can be very, very dangerous. Yeah, like some of the others, you can see how people get to this point of thinking that popularity is synonymous with leadership. "Oh, this person has a massive following, right? They must be able to lead." That's certainly not true.

0:33:47.0 Tim: No, it's not. This misconception of leadership also points to the distinction between leadership and management as related disciplines. They're related but not the same thing. So popularity implies that you cherish and are preserving the status quo. You're popular, and you like the way things are, right? So that's kind of the management side of things. Leadership is not about preserving the status quo. Leadership is most of the time, it's about disturbing the status quo. So you have preserve and you have disturb. If you're disturbing the status quo, what do leaders do, Junior? They're constantly evaluating the current state, and they're asking the question, "Where do we need to go? What does the future state look like?"

0:34:40.6 Tim: They have a portrait of the future in their mind. It's a seedling of reality, and they're trying to figure out, "How do we go from current state to future state?" Well, if they're doing that, then they're change agents. They are disturbing the status quo. They are disrupting the way things are doing... The way things are done. They're doing violence to the current regime. If you're doing that, if you're constantly trying to move the institution, the organization, whatever it is, wherever you are, to a higher, better place, that's not always going to result in popularity. In fact, often it won't. And so the popularity would be an indication that you're not working hard enough.

0:35:29.5 Junior: I love that point, and I'm gonna tie it into the next misconception, which is leadership is about fame. And if you are known far and wide, you are a leader. So I'm gonna take popularity and fame, kinda aim at them together. It seems that the more popular you are or the more fame you have, the more expensive change becomes. Where this becomes dangerous is well, all the time, because change is necessary in order to reinvent ourselves, based on the changing landscape. So change is inevitable. We either change with the changes or we get blown up by the changes. We get hurt by the changes. And so you can see how this becomes problematic. Let's say that there's a change that I know I need to make. It's a management decision or a personnel change or whatever the case may be.

0:36:27.0 Junior: And what do I start to weigh? In my calculus now, I have my popularity and my fame. And if that's counter the right decision, if I know that there will be backlash, based on what I know I need to do, it becomes more expensive. Now, if the popularity came because of some prior success and you weren't aiming at it, it's just a consequence unrelated to your aim, okay, you'll probably be less attached, and it will probably affect you less if you go ahead and make that decision. If you aimed at popularity and that's your intended outcome and you have to make that change or at least you know that that would be the change in the best interest of the organization, are you gonna do it? Ugh, probably not.

0:37:15.8 Tim: Probably not.

0:37:17.0 Junior: Probably not.

0:37:18.1 Tim: Yeah. Popularity and fame are cousins, aren't they Junior?

0:37:21.7 Junior: They are. They may be siblings.

0:37:23.1 Tim: Yeah, they're siblings. And if you're looking in the social mirror to measure your success, you're looking in the wrong place. I would suggest that if that's your measure, and I don't mean this in a rude way, but I would say you are a slave to small plans. That's not really a great aspiration. There's a more meaningful measure.

0:37:47.4 Junior: I love that. Okay. Next one, leadership is about winning. If you beat your opponents or if you have to beat your opponents, you are a leader. Winning is fascinating to me, because we do want competence. But even the frame, we have to question the frame that we're using, is what we're doing something that we can frame as a win or a loss? I think that's a question up that we need to consider. Because it could be the case that we're above the winning and the losing not in a leader sense, but in the sense that we're playing an infinite game. We are doing what we're doing and would do it regardless of the outcome. I think that that's an interesting consideration, because beating your opponents, again, that could be small plans. It could be that you're aiming at something higher, something more meaningful, something longer lasting, something that has some legs, that have some staying power.

0:38:51.8 Tim: Junior, I think you said it to begin with, your frame is off. If you're framing leadership is about winning, then that's a zero-sum adversarial frame. You can do better than that. What about finding a solution for all parties involved? Look at every stakeholder. How do we rise above that? How do we get to a more abundant place? So, you can see that framing it as strictly about winning can be a very diminishing way of thinking about leadership.

0:39:32.2 Junior: I agree. Next, let's go to number nine. We got two more. Leadership is about wealth. If you have money, you are a leader. As with the previous eight, we're looking at indicators. We're trying to find proxies for leadership. We're looking at what's in front of us and trying to make sense of it. And sometimes we can come to the conclusion that, hey, if you have money or successful in some, you must know something and thus you're probably a decent leader. And if you have more money, you're a better leader. And if you have no money, you probably can't lead anyone. Is that true? It's an easy... It's a cop-out. It doesn't require a lot of critical thinking. But when you unpack that, you start to see, no, no, wealth is not a proxy for leadership.

0:40:19.7 Junior: You look at the effect that even luck has, we hesitate to talk about this in this arena because it's hard to point at. You can't look at 10 billionaires and say, "Well, luck was all... Three of the successes of the 10 were attributable to luck." Luck plays a role in every single outcome all the time for all of us and we can't quantify it, we can't point at it. And so, it could be that the wealth is just luck, or it could be that it's competence, or it could be any number of things, but it's impossible to be definitive. And so, to say that it's synonymous with leadership, big mistake.

0:41:00.5 Tim: Well, Junior, I think an argument in favor of that is this notion, this concept of the serial entrepreneur. How many of those really are there?


0:41:10.0 Junior: How many successful serial entrepreneurs have we seen? Yeah.

0:41:13.2 Tim: It's a very rare thing.

0:41:15.2 Junior: It's a very rare thing.

0:41:17.7 Tim: There's almost no such thing as a serial entrepreneur. There are a few but with rare exception, it's a species that does not exist. So what does that tell you? That tells you that success, that when we're highly successful in a monetary or a temporal sense, that there are many factors at work that we don't have control over. And so, the windfall may come from being in the right place at the right time. The windfall may come from the fact that you are working with colleagues that are brilliant and that made some things happen that you could never do. So the disproportionate relationship between cause and effect that now makes you wealthy, it's never mono-causal, it's never you. It's a constellation of factors that are working together. So we just have to be really careful about over-simplifying the interpretation of wealth as a reflection of leadership.

0:42:18.0 Junior: Yeah. It makes me think in simple terms, if you could do that and be a successful serial entrepreneur, it would have to be replicable. In order for it to be replicable, you would have to understand the causal chain, and you would have to understand which inputs need to go into the system. We can't do that. We can't do that. And that debunks the entire thing. Okay. Next, leadership is about education. This is our last one. If you are degreed and credentialed, you are a leader. Again, we're looking at artifacts, we're looking at what's in front of us, and sometimes we're saying, "Oh, you have the degree, you have this credential, therefore you must be a leader." Dangerous.

0:42:58.2 Tim: Yeah. Very dangerous. Junior, we've done a lot of work, as you know, in the health care industry, in the healthcare space. And if you walk into any hospital, there's a hierarchy. It's an interesting cultural dynamic that seems to prevail in almost any large hospital, where you have this pecking order and you have the neurosurgeons and the cardiothoracic surgeons at the top, and you've got the scrub techs at the bottom. And yeah, I'm over-simplifying, but it's so interesting because in healthcare, it's a credentialed environment. And that is as it should be, because we need credentialed and certified people to be able to do, to be able to perform clinical services, and we need to be able to verify that they know how to do that. But what happens is, we stretch the notion of credentials based on education to the domain of leadership.

0:43:57.5 Tim: We're cross applying that logic and we're saying, "Oh, well, if you're credentialed, if you're highly credentialed, then again by extension you must be a great leader." Well, unfortunately, that's just not true. Now, it may happen to be the case that you are also a great leader and that would be fantastic, but that doesn't necessarily follow. And so, we find a lot of highly credentialed people in every field, across every industry, in every segment of society, they're highly credentialed, but they don't know how to lead. They struggle with that. And so, we just need to check ourselves and understand that we cannot cross apply educational credentials and again, use them as proxy for leadership.

0:44:48.2 Junior: So there are 10. The 10 misleading leadership theories. And one of the things I wanna point out and qualify at the end of this portion, is that these things that we've talked about in isolation are not bad. Charisma is not bad, eloquence is not bad, power, seniority, scale, popularity, fame, winning, wealth and education, those are not bad things. But if you use them as proxies for leadership, if you think they are synonymous, that's where the problem lies. So, we wanna move into what is leadership? What is healthy influence?

0:45:24.1 Junior: And we wanna give you some tools to think about that may help. Each of us is trying to become a leader, become a better leader and gain healthy influence. In the next section here, we wanna talk about the spectrum of influence, and I'll lay this out if you can picture it in your mind's eye. On one end of the spectrum, we have manipulation. This is influence through deception, and the goal is to obtain advantage, it could be mild and well meaning, it can also be predatory and destructive. Tim, as you say, we're using tricks. I really like that language. We're being tricky.

0:46:02.2 Tim: Yeah, we're being tricky. We're being deceptive. Right? Yeah.

0:46:07.1 Junior: On the other end, we have coercion. This is influence by force, pressing people into service, muscling our way to achieve our aims, its power tools. Think about those two things on the ends of the spectrum. Manipulation, tricks. Coercion, power tools. Obviously, we don't want either one of those. We have seen what happens when we lead with those things, or when we influence with those things, I should say. So, those are illegitimate forms of influence. And if you're using either of those, you've abandoned any form of legitimate influence. And sometimes they can be mild, maybe you're not pegged out at either end of the spectrum, and you're leaning toward the middle. What lives in the middle, Tim?

0:46:55.7 Tim: What lives in the middle? Well, every legitimate form of influence lives in the middle. Think about this, listeners, if we're not reaching for power tools based on coercion and we're not reaching for tricks on the other hand, based on manipulation, well, what do we have? What's left? Well, there's a lot of things that are left in the middle. Encouragement is left in the middle, vision is left in the middle, coaching is left in the middle, logic, data. Analysis is left in the middle. Compassion is left in the middle. Listening is left in the middle. Think about all of the legitimate forms of influence that you can use in the middle. The things that we do to influence each other in good ways, in wholesome ways, in noble ways. That's what we're talking about. There's so much in the middle.

0:47:52.2 Junior: There's tons. You probably mentioned a dozen and we would bucket all of those into persuasion. And persuasion is that healthy middle. The connotation is different. The connotation of persuasion can sometimes be a little bit negative, but just understand that inside that bucket, look at all of those tools that we have. Listening as an example. Leaders who live in the middle, who use persuasion and stay away from manipulation and coercion have two things. And now we're gonna reference back to the title of the book from which we're drawing some of the content, leading with character and competence.

0:48:36.3 Junior: So, character is the first thing, let's talk about it. Out of character flows the confidence that you can be trusted to do the job. You need to be able to be trusted. That's what we're looking for. Out of competence flows the confidence that you know how to do the job. So, those two things must be true in order for us to look at someone and say, "That's a real leader." Trust to do the job, knowing how to do the job, high character, high competence. These things can exist in combinations, right, Tim?

0:49:08.9 Tim: They can. Think about the combinations that come out of this. We have character as one dimension, we have competence as the second dimension, that gives you four different combinations. Now, the first two are pretty straightforward. High character, high competence gives you what? A great leader. Now, let's go to the other side. A low character, low competence gives you what? A failed leader. So those are clear, but now we get to the two very interesting combinations that are left. Think about this for a minute. You have a high character, low competence leader. Now, think about this. Think about this. Just think about your experience, think about the people you've worked with, think about the leaders that you've had, think about your direct supervisors, a high character, low competence leader. What kind of leader is that? Junior, what would you say?

0:50:06.9 Junior: At best, a nice one. We can go to lunch, but I'm not gonna put anything in front of you that has much risk involved. I'm not gonna lean on you. I'm not gonna put myself in a position where I need to rely on you. I can't depend on you because I know that, or at least I'm not confident that the quality will be there. And so, we can associate, but this is not somebody who I'm gonna put in my corner. This is not someone who I'm gonna put it in a high stake scenario. This is not someone I'm gonna call in an emergency. This is not someone who's going to do anything really meaningful or weighty for me.

0:50:49.4 Tim: Well, as you said, you called them nice. You said you'd be willing to go to lunch with them.

0:50:53.3 Junior: Yeah, and I respect your character. Right? High marks. That's wonderful. But there's not much you can do past that.

0:51:02.2 Tim: We're not gonna get into a fox hole together.

0:51:04.1 Junior: No. No.

0:51:05.8 Tim: That's not gonna happen.

0:51:07.3 Junior: We're not.

0:51:07.8 Tim: Okay. That's intriguing. Okay. Here's the last combination. Low character with high competence. This is the last one, and this is also extremely intriguing. Junior, what do you think about this one?

0:51:23.5 Junior: This one is scary.

0:51:24.7 Tim: Okay.

0:51:25.6 Junior: This one is scary because this person is dangerous. And that's how I view this combination. The competence is deceptive. We want high competence. This person will get results. How they get those results may be a different question. Organizations often reward results, they reward competence. If you look at your performance evaluation, we're not... We're looking much more at competence than we are at character most of the time. And so, letting this person work into the organization and up the organization becomes dangerous. It's risky because you never know what they're going to do and when push comes to shove, if there's an ethical dilemma, which way are they gonna fall?

0:52:16.9 Junior: If a low character, high competence, they're gonna look for the performance outcome and maybe they'll throw ethics to the wayside. What you find in some of the biggest catastrophes of the last, let's say, 100 years in business or ever have come through these combinations, high competence, low character. They could get the job done, they were very good at what they did, high technical competence, just an abundance of skill. But when push came to shove, didn't make the right choice. I'm also not gonna go down the road with this person either, they're too dangerous. I don't know what I'm gonna get.

0:52:53.9 Tim: Yeah. Well, with the low character, they're not anchored with some non-negotiable, ethical creed.

0:53:02.1 Junior: Not predictable.

0:53:03.3 Tim: They're not predictable. Maybe they are predictable in the sense that at some point, somewhere sometime they're going to let us down, we just don't know when.

0:53:11.1 Junior: Yeah, they're predictably bad.

0:53:12.3 Tim: Yes.

0:53:13.1 Junior: There you go. That one's really scary. And so, we have to keep an eye out for these. And I will also say, if we're looking through the lens of remediation or training, which one's easier to train, competence or character? Competence. That character in most cases is baked, it's done. Not that we can't become better, and not that we can't become worse, but it's easier to train the competence into someone that's high character than it is to train high character out of somebody who's already competent. Part of that is because, in my opinion, highly competent people that are low character have already got results, and that's often what they are aimed at. That's the objective.

0:54:01.0 Tim: It's reinforcing too.

0:54:02.5 Junior: Precisely.

0:54:03.1 Tim: Right. They look around at the results, they look around at performance, and it reinforces what they're doing and they say, "I'm doing it right. The evidence suggests that I'm successful and I'm doing it right." Now, there certainly are exceptions, but it's difficult to turn that around often, we have to acknowledge that. What does great really mean then, Junior? We talked about these four combinations. If we get high, high, high, high competence, high character, where are we?

0:54:32.4 Junior: We're at the pinnacle. That's what we want. And we wanna continue to move. We wanna peg out in the upper right. If you think of this as a 2x2 matrix, there's still a box that represents high, high. You wanna be as pegged out up and to the right as possible. Constantly refining your character, constantly becoming more skilled. And so, this is our invitation. At the end of all this, we've talked about the misleading leadership theories. We've said, it is not charisma, eloquence, power, etcetera. So what is it? It's this combination of character and competence. What is our invitation then? Is to become better in those two traits. And it's an invitation for every single one of us to have a personal inventory. You use that language a lot, which I really like.

0:55:26.4 Junior: You also say look into a clean mirror, which I also like, and say or ask ourselves, how am I doing? How am I doing in character? Because you know. How am I doing in competence? You often know but you might want some feedback there. And then do what you need to do to become better. It may sound so simple, but that's where the magic is. That's why it's so beautiful. This is not complicated. Leadership, we over-complicate, as you said in the beginning. This is something that is not complicated. Leadership is influence, it's influencing healthily through persuasion, it's avoiding manipulation and coercion, and it's becoming high character, high competence. You can explain that in two minutes and that's... If you understood all of those things, if I understood all of those things as well as I know I could, I think I would be quite the leader, and I think that we can say that about each of us.

0:56:23.8 Tim: Yeah, I agree, Junior. We're trying to get to a place where there's no duplicity, no intimidation, no fear, no threats, no betrayal on the character side. We don't have any of those things. And then on the competence side, we're getting better, we're getting a little bit better everyday. We're acquiring knowledge, and skill, and experience, and judgment. And that's really an incremental process, it is a lifetime pursuit, but that's what we wanna be doing.

0:56:55.9 Junior: So, as you enter the next day, the rest of your day, the following week, we hope that you'll keep these things top of mind. I'm going to try. We influence everyday because we interact everyday. We can't turn that off. We can't leave that alone. We're influencing inevitably. The question is how. How will you influence and toward what end? Ask yourself that question and answer it, and then try and go, be better. That's what we all need to do. The world is in desperate need of people who do that. We need leadership. There is a dearth of leadership, and we need to fill the void, we need to fill the gap with people who are high character and high competence. So thank you all for listening, spending your time with us today. We know that you could spend it elsewhere.

0:57:44.0 Junior: And hopefully you've learned a little bit more about leadership or understand the angle that we're taking. In the show notes, we're going to link the book, Leading with Character and Competence. If you haven't had an opportunity to check that out, we would highly recommend it. If you missed our previous series on psychological safety and the driver for increased demand, go ahead and check that out. We have really good response from those episodes. And with that, if you liked today's episode, we would love to hear about it. We know that it was a little bit different than the last few episodes. So if there's something that stood out to you, something that you'd like us to talk about next time, please leave us a comment and leave a review, share with those that you think might find it valuable. Okay. Tim, that's it for me. Any final words from you?

0:58:31.8 Tim: No. Let's go out and try to increase our character and competence and avoid the misleading theories about leadership, and I think we'll help ourselves.

0:58:41.0 Junior: Love it. All right. Thank you everybody. We'll see you next time.


0:58:51.2 Producer: Hey Culture by Design listeners, you made it to the end of today's episode. Thank you again for listening and for making culture something that you do by design and not by default. If you've enjoyed today's episode please be so kind to leave us a review. It helps us reach a wider audience and accomplish our mission of influencing the world for good at scale. Today's episode show notes and other relevant resources related to today's topic can be found at leaderfactor.com/resources. And with that, we'll see you next episode.


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