Sometimes leaders just don’t understand what the true consequences of their decisions and actions are. Self sabotage by leaders comes about through ignorance, over confidence, omnipotent self belief and delusion. One only has to look at the musings of dictators as they come to the end of their terms in power to draw examples I rest my case with the current furore around FIFA. The problem is that rarely is an autocratic leader told the truth by subordinates. The confidence required to reach power can quickly become the confidence that ensures the fall from power.
Leaders need to have a trusted sounding board somewhere in their team such as Josh Bolten, George W Bush’s chief of staff, who always tried to encourage others to be frank in front of the president.”I took it as my role as chief of staff where an issue was truly presidential to insist that the disagreement be aired in front of the president in full glory. So I found myself needling cabinet officers and senior advisers and prodding them into taking the extreme form of disagreement that I knew existed outside the room to give the president a real chance to make a decision, and for the boss that I served.” The role of trusted adviser becomes essential when in a crisis.
However that sounding board has to remain enlightened and cannot become like the leader dizzy and deluded on power. True “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely” and yet when one truly reflects on the great transformational leaders of our time they are some of the most humble: Mother Theresa, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela. All possessed self awareness and all possessed a deep understanding of humanity. Humble, yet their legacy is far more powerful and omnipotent than many of the organisational leaders made in our modern capitalist society.
I believe that self awareness in a leader is a rare talent. As people reach the upper echelons of power they begin to believe in their omnipotence they are constantly worshipped by their teams of obsequious followers who in themselves are dependent upon the leader to preserve their own social status. A study done by Coopers and Lybrand a few years ago indicated that when asked CEO’s indicated that only ll% of their employees believed they were taking risks to deliver any bad news up the chain. However, the middle managers felt differently. 33% said bad news in their company (Fortune 500) was a career limiting risk and 50% of lower level employees agreed with the middle managers
A leader who reflects on personal actions and decisions, one who rejoices in their teams achievements and not their own; a leader who empowers their people without pomp and ceremony; one who recognises the fragility and weaknesses of being human in themselves and all those around them is the real thing. For it is to them and only them that the true trust of followership is given.
Self awareness whether self-induced or externally initiated is key to keeping a leader straight and true for self-sabotage can easily slip into a leaders repertoire without it. And when it does there will inevitably be a fall as the leader arrogantly chooses the wrong path.