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How We ‘Broke’ Leadership by Using the Wrong Yardstick

Image of man stepping into danger

© Sergej Khackimullin –

After last week’s conference, Leading to Well-Being, at George Mason University, I finally understand how the leadership function has become so broken in corporate America.

For some time now, I have been thinking that the predominant style (command) and typical org structure (top down) have lagged the social/economic structure by a couple of generations. The styles that worked during the agricultural and industrial ages do not work well in an information economy that has an increasingly distributed workforce. Somehow, I couldn’t figure out why we continued to disconnect between today’s reality and yesterday’s leadership.

Annie McKee, founder of Teleos Leadership Institute, answered the question during her keynote address at at the conference. Our collective thinking has been grounded in flawed studies about leadership. During the late 40’s and early 50’s, researchers cataloged successful leaders’ traits. The top 3 were as follows:

  1. Male (Caucasian implied)
  2. Tall
  3. Presbyterian

The mistake: Researchers focused on measuring traits rather than behaviors. The false results became a deeply seated cultural belief about what it takes to lead effectively. Not only are these beliefs about leadership inaccurate, they foster unhealthy, low productivity work environments. It just goes to show you have to be careful about what (and how) you measure things.

Emotions Are Contagious… Manage Them Well

McKee asserts that we are in the midst of the greatest change in human history. Technological advancements amplify the pace of change. In order to thrive, she suggests that “We need to raise our awareness on how we need to live and lead differently. . . the basic platform for leadership is the capacity to influence, motivate, and inspire other people.” And also downplay the idea that you should leave your emotions at the door when you get to work.

Image of Shannon Polly

Your emotions become a resource for others.

As much as people may try to suppress their emotions at work, they’re not only there, they drive behavior. Modern neuroscience shows the tight interplay between emotions and cognition. The emotional brain processes information and reacts first, followed by the rational brain. Always. So, we may as well admit we have them and use emotions to our collective benefit.

If that sounds a little too far ‘out there,’ consider this. Your nervous system can become a resource for someone else. Emotions cause biochemical reactions that are transmitted to other people. As a result, human communication consists of more than body language, tone of voice, and word choice. It also contains a powerful, emotionally-based biochemical interchange.

Change Is Not a Dirty Word

Friday’s event on Leading to Well-being, sponsored by #MasonLeads and the Center for Consciousness & Transformation, happens once a year.

If you’re interested in improving the level of well-being in your workplace and live the in the Metro DC area, please join the Positive Business DC Meetup group. We sponsor quarterly lectures and offer Webinars that give people the tools they need to transform their workplaces and their lives. This month’s topic, Change Is Not A Dirty Word, features a technique called Appreciative Inquiry. We’re meeting at Canvas on April 24th at 7:00 p.m. Shannon Polly, MAPP, headlines.

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