Avoiding the dark side of leadership

by | Sep 3, 2020

Lucas films created a dynasty with movies involving ‘the dark side,’ and the trials of those on the side of good who opposed them. Joseph Campbell, in his book The Hero of a Thousand Faces, formed the theory of The Heroes Journey, after reviewing myths and stories that provided great entertainment throughout history.  Part of his approach was to lure the main character away from the task at hand with some sort of temptation. . Leaders of today are on similar journeys in the real world –  facing trials and obstacles to lead teams, departments, and organizations towards achieving success. We all have our story, and how we guide ourselves through that narrative will provide the ending, happy or not.

Jay A. Conger from McGill University wrote The Dark Side of Leadership, providing areas of concern and the symptoms of behaviours in leadership skills that can become toxic in an organization. The three main areas he details are:

  • Vision

  • Impression

  • Practices

When a leader presents a vision, the focus must be on the benefits it will provide to others and not to themselves. A concept that everyone on the team can get behind makes for an emotional investment in the outcome, creating an environment of success. Without the acceptance of those who will march towards that vision, it will lead to failure. A leader’s vision should not be for selfish reasons. Standing in the limelight at the expense of those who got them there can make others walk away.

Leaders can make a strong impression on their teams. The ability to communicate can motivate and provide the drive needed to complete the task. With simple words, they can push a group or individuals to break through their self-imposed limits. In the movie, Rocky Balboa Sylvester Stallone’s character provides an inspirational speech that reaches out to the audience in a powerful way. Words can have a substantial impact and, according to Conger, there is a fine line between whether those words are more about the person saying them, or about the people listening. Leaving out the negatives and only pushing the positives can create a much worse environment when those negatives become a reality. Leaders need to be transparent and mean what they say to have the team’s best interest at heart.

There is a wide variance of leadership styles, and great leaders draw from all of them to become someone who teams will follow. It is in these practices where the previously discussed areas can make or break a team’s success. A leader who can effectively collaborate, listen, and digest the information provided to them so they can make the right decisions for the team, are of high value. Further to that, a critical practise that a great leader should follow is to have a succession plan. Identifying individuals and coaching them to take over their role is truly motivational. Not doing so only limits each person, including the leader.

The saying “Leaders are born, not made” is somewhat true. Everyone has the potential to be a leader, and those who don’t aspire to those leadership roles are still leaders professionally and personally. It’s all about how they treat and work with others. In the end, that is what it is about – how a leader treats others and avoids the temptations of the dark side.

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