Dilbert is very clear on this topic! Still, I cannot help feeling that it would be a pity if business leaders would stop reading those books on “the rules of leadership”. Some of them never read anything, and maybe some of them are natural talents – born leaders – who cannot learn anything from others. But most of them both could and should…
The problem with leadership literature isn’t that it exists or that some leaders read it. The problem is that it claims to be the only truth, the silver bullet. And that leaders believe in that. In general, the hunt for just one simple formula for everything (see also my post on that topic) is what is wrong here.
Dilbert is very right, in my opinion, in stating that “every situation is unique and requires a different type of leader”. Actually, he thereby describes the only rock solid rule to follow for any leader: act upon the situation, not according to a fixed rule.
However, I would like to add another rule, which I hope will become just as rock solid one day – “respect for people”. Hmm…? But haven’t we heard about that one before? Yes, but somehow a lot of people – leaders and non-leaders alike – believe that this is a unidirectional rule, telling leaders to not be too harsh on their workers. I would like it to be extended into a multi directional rule, telling everybody to respect everybody – including both workers and other leaders to respect the leader and his/her individual treats.
Instead of having just two kinds of leaders: those who try to become standard leaders and those who do not care, why not just accept that there is a human being inside of every leader? Why not allow for leaders to behave like humans and have a personality?
I have seen examples in real life on how the group of leaders in a company tried to develop a standard behaviour, based on a set of standard leadership theories. They were, in fact, trying to become one mass of leadership, making it irrelevant which particular leader a worker was dealing with – the leaders’ acts and way of speaking should be exactly the same. The HR department spent a lot of time and energy on trying to teach and remodel all existing leaders, and it attempted to hire only those new leaders who were already close to the chosen model (and fired them again if they turned out to have a personality of their own).
In my opinion they could just as well have developed a computer program like Eliza – if you remember that one? A psychotherapist emulator based on simple rules on how to always reply with a question and how to use key words from what the client said in that counter-question. Eliza turned out to be a fun thing to talk to – for two minutes! After that, the poor clients got more and more annoyed with this kind of non-human dialogue.
We all want to talk to humans. We do not want to talk to machines. If a leader cannot be a human being with individual ways and thoughts, he/she cannot be a leader.