Classic: The Gentleman

Originally published 6/16/2011.  Note:  This is the final topic in this series on Extreme Leadership styles that fail.  Beginning next week the “classic” series will begin exploring Employee Behaviors Managers Hate.

Nearly everyone likes the “Gentleman” – at least in the beginning.  This extreme leader is exceedingly image conscious, and frequently puts herself in a position of agreeing with the point of view of anyone she wants to impress.  There is little that strokes an ego more than the agreement of a person in a position of power.  The “Gentleman” is ingratiating, a behavior which helps this extreme leader develop and cultivate a highly positive image.

The “Gentleman” tends to straddle controversial issues, not wanting to take sides as doing so will lead to a tarnishing of that all important image.  He is particularly sensitive to how he looks in the eyes of key subordinates, suppliers, shareholders or other stakeholders he decides matter.  Unfortunately, being the “Gentleman” also means this extreme leader tends to ignore conflict, politicking, and sometimes even sometimes simple disagreements.  Avoidance is the “Gentleman’s” watchword.

At his core, the “Gentleman” has a desperate desire to be liked by everyone, and a self-serving belief that by being liked, they will necessarily be more effective.  I've most often witnessed a "Gentleman" leader in the making among the sales ranks, where making tough decisions and potentially angering customers has little to no upside.  In addition to the need to be liked (or loved, or adored), some “Gentlemen” have a deeply rooted abhorrence of conflict, and a strong need to avoid situations where conflict can erupt.

Of all the extreme leadership styles, falling into this one was my own personal greatest danger.  I’ve always had a deeply rooted need to “be liked” and often times have found myself tempted to shy away from difficult or messy situations if I feared I would make enemies or fuel detractors.  Battling against this urge was a constant struggle while I was in high level managerial positions, and I know I was less than perfect at opposing my natural inclinations.

The “Gentleman” can seldom give effective critiques; often times letting small problems or irritations with subordinates grow to the point where they become major issues.  I’ve seen “Gentlemen” continue to smile until issues reach critical mass, then they react severely, leaving the target of their anger surprised and confused.  Conflicts between peers in the organization are often permitted to simmer and escalate, as the “Gentleman” avoids stepping in and driving the issue to a conclusion.  In extreme cases, the “Gentleman” may actually use a proxy or another other circuitous route to make his or her true wishes known to the combatants.

Most people in the organization will find this extreme leader to be a likable sort -- particularly when they don't have to deal with some of the behavioral problems spawned by her style of leadership.  If the “Gentleman” is the CEO, most of the burden of the dirty work falls on those subordinates near the top of the company, often times resulting in substantial conflict, politicking, and buckets full of ambiguity.

The biggest negative impact of the “Gentleman” is typically due to wasted effort.  Organizations headed by “Gentlemen” devote large amounts of time to extended political battles and second guessing.  There can also be substantial turnover of top management, as leaders become frustrated by the ambiguity and lack of transparency.  The “Gentleman,” however, will have little trouble replacing departing executives as with an abundance of soft-spoken kindness, she will be a stellar recruiter.  The underlying challenges of working within a “Gentleman-led” organization are not apparent in the short time of an interview.

Of all the extreme types, this one may have the greatest chance of long term financial success for the organization, but at a steep price for those working directly for him.

Other Posts in this Series:

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To the right is the cover for DELIVERABLES.  This novel features a senior manager approached by government officials to spy on his employer, concerned about how a "deal" the company is negotiating might put critical technical secrets into the hands of enemies of the United States.  Of course, things are not exactly as it seems....

My novels are based on extensions of 27 years of personal experience as a senior manager in public corporations.