Born this way

A few days ago I posed a question on Twitter about the impact of the behaviour and style of those who led you at a formative stage of your career has had on your own leadership behaviour and style.  Here I’ll discuss this.

Here’s the tweet.

Capture

This was prompted after a meeting with someone in my network.  Well, I say meeting, we both like to ride our bikes so instead of a traditional meeting, we spent a morning riding around the Cheshire countryside punctuated by coffee stops, and chatting about all things people management and development.  Most enjoyable.

Anyway, we got to talking about various poor leaders we have encountered, and I told the story of a particularly bad manager I’d had in recent years (we’ll call her Jane Doe), without doubt the worst I’d ever had.  And to my surprise my friend knew the person in question, had worked with them over 15 years previously when Jane Doe was starting out in their management career.

What my friend said about Jane Doe surprised me.  He said that when he knew them, they didn’t display any of the poor qualities I later experienced, but said that management was very new to Jane at that point.  He also said that Jane Doe appeared to have, at the time he knew her, a very bad manager herself who regularly reduced Jane to tears and who was known to be a bit of a tyrant.  In fact, as my friend described Jane’s manager and behaviour, I was struck by how similar it was to how Jane behaved some 15 years later with me.

Almost identical in fact.

And that made me wonder whether Jane’s experience of poor leadership and management behaviour in the formative stages of her own management career had shaped her own leadership style and behaviour as her career developed?

Hence the tweet.

I guess its a bit of a nature vs nurture debate and one to which there is unlikely to be a definitive answer, but the responses on Twitter were interesting.

Almost everyone said that the managers they had early in their career did have an impact and continue to do so.

However many people said that when they had experienced bad managers, this had made them react strongly against it and seek to avoid this type of behaviour.

Others pointed out that there are other influences, such as parents, teachers, friends/peer groups, and specific experiences.  And I’d agree with that.

But my question was hinting at whether bad managers beget bad managers, and whether good managers beget good managers.  And I think that whilst there isn’t overwhelming evidence in favour of this hypothesis, most would concede that it is at least possible – one tends to learn behaviour by observing others, and if you’ve seen a leader get results (note – define results in whatever way you will, but in this case I’m talking about compliance, obedience, and short-term performance) by acting in a certain way, then you would be tempted to copy that behaviour when you first get into management to see if it gets similar results – and it might.  And so if this behaviour you’re copying is one that reduces people to tears, but gets them doing their work – you’re tempted to copy it.

But if you’re a decent human being then you might observe this and think “hang on, there’s got to be a better way of getting results than this”.  And you’d be right.  So there’s an element of how the brain functions, of personality layers too, that will shape an individual leaders’ decision making and style – and I’m not inclined to get into discussing this here in detail but would be interested in what you think?

I’ll talk a little about some of the best leaders and managers I’ve worked for and, as I’ve been reflecting on this, I’ve listed 5 great managers I’ve worked for and have, for the first time, noticed some shared qualities, styles and behaviours that they have.

Why hadn’t I noticed that before?  Particularly as they seem to be qualities which I aspire to copy and adapt.

All 5 of them were in touch with their and my emotions.  They were all helpful, supportive, genuine people who inspired loyalty, and whose approach to getting you to do something was to make you feel that you really wanted to do it, and never to order.  There were no tears, but plenty of jokes and laughs.  There was a caring approach and a focus on family.  And they were all awesome.

Contrast that with some bad managers I’ve worked for where you could almost reverse the preceding paragraph.  One was known, behind her back, as The Smiling Assassin.  Another was known, behind his back, as The Hatchet Man.  Another had the secret soubriquet Lethal, and another was known as The Jerk.  The names are relevant because these are labels given to them by staff who saw that these leaders weren’t good leaders, and who knew their behaviours were poor – the leaders were seen as false.

But, most of them did get results.

So somewhere some aspiring managers might have been watching them and thinking they’d copy this behaviour at some point…and so the cycle continues.

I like to think I’m a decent human being and a leader with some good qualities, and I can say that that has been shaped by working for great leaders in the past.  How might I have fared if I’d been Jane Doe and working for a poor leader at a formative stage of my career?  Would I have become a poor leader myself?

I hope not.

Poor Jane Doe.

What are your views on this discussion?

Till next time…

Gary

PS in other news, my eldest son starts College this coming week, and we are also now looking for primary schools for my youngest daughter – talk about a spread of parenting responsibilities…

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