Leadership and Anti-leadership

I recently met with a friend of mine who, because of his work, meets many people and especially many leaders. As we were talking about leadership, he began to discuss a concept that he had developed through observation of people in his many years of career. The concept is intriguing and is based on the fact that many confuse leadership with position. In other words, for instance, many assume that a CEO must be a leader, or a Mayor should be one. However, in his experience, this friend of mine found out, and continues to find out, that the majority of supposed leaders develop an anti-leadership consistent behaviour and become more preoccupied with personal interest and securing personal power, whatever that means. He went as far as identifying the traits of anti-leadership by observing the behaviour of those people and by association he also identified what leaders should be instead.

In discussing this concept further with him, I thought of a book I recently read titled “The Leader Who Had No Title” by Robin Sharma where the author makes the point, in a masterful storytelling style, that leadership and position – or title – are not necessarily related. Anyone can – and should – be a leader, and a title does not ensure inherent leadership – although we would hope that someone in a position of power would also be a leader. In his book, Sharma identifies four principles of true leadership which, if understood and practised, would bring the best out of people and foster more excellence and less mediocrity, more happiness and less negative conflict. Each of those principles is based on “rules” that, if followed, would help individuals to become true leaders.

But let us go back to my friend and his observations. He told me that he noticed that many of those that arrive to a position of importance – in other words near to or at the top of the career ladder – increasingly show a number of anti-leadership traits. He identified ten of them. The list goes as follows:

  • Lack of integrity and not being trustworthy
  • Not a team builder (promotes self and not the team)
  • Weak value system (not always reliable, honest, respectful, or empathetic)
  • Lack of good vision (not strategic, inspirational or passionate)
  • Difficulty implementing and not persistent
  • No recognition and development of talent
  • Not technically knowledgeable or competent
  • Not influential or enthusiastic (does not resolve conflict)
  • No accountability or responsibility
  • Inability to script and pursue change effectively.

Take all these negatives and turn them into the opposite and you have the competencies needed to be a good leader. I confessed to my friend that in my many years as an adult I noticed much of this anti-leadership in both life and work. I also told him, though, that in general individuals do not want to do a bad job or exercise unfair power towards others. In fact, I believe that people are inherently good. However, the temptation to be more selfish and less of a leader arises when pride and complacency ensue. So it is important that we remind ourselves, as often as possible, what true leadership means and practice humility.

In the last few weeks I came across a couple of talks that have resonated with me profoundly and tie into the concept of leadership and anti-leadership. The first one is from Dieter F. Uchtdorf, retired Vice President of Operations for Lufthansa and a pilot himself. He has recently spoken of regrets and resolutions and the following statement from him struck a chord with me: “So often we get caught up in the illusion that there is something just beyond our reach that would bring us happiness: a better family situation, a better financial situation, or the end of a challenging trial. The older we get, the more we look back and realize that external circumstances don’t really matter or determine our happiness. We do matter. We determine our happiness. You and I are ultimately in charge of our own happiness.” No matter what we do or what title we have, it is up to us to bring happiness into our lives. At the end of our mortal life, we will not take with us any possessions and pride in oneself will be irrelevant, but we do leave a legacy. In fact the real questions are: is the legacy I am leaving to posterity good or bad? How will I be remembered one day? Within us is the longing for being accepted for good things not the bad ones. Then we need to remind ourselves that every day we have an opportunity to make a difference and to increase the good we will leave to others one day.

Mr. Uchtdorf went on by sharing a personal experience: “My wife, Harriet, and I love riding our bicycles. It is wonderful to get out and enjoy the beauties of nature. We have certain routes we like to bike, but we don’t pay too much attention to how far we go or how fast we travel in comparison with other riders. However, occasionally I think we should be a bit more competitive. I even think we could get a better time or ride at a higher speed if only we pushed ourselves a little more. And then sometimes I even make the big mistake of mentioning this idea to my wonderful wife. Her typical reaction to my suggestions of this nature is always very kind, very clear, and very direct. She smiles and says, “Dieter, it’s not a race; it’s a journey. Enjoy the moment.” How right she is! Sometimes in life we become so focused on the finish line that we fail to find joy in the journey. I don’t go cycling with my wife because I’m excited about finishing. I go because the experience of being with her is sweet and enjoyable.” Too many times, I should add, we only look at the result without taking the time to ponder over the process, which is where true experiential growth lies.

The second talk is from Linda K. Burton, who is the President of one of the biggest and oldest women organizations in the world. She spoke about service and how much it helps people to become selfless and more understanding. Her motto is “First observe, then serve.” Service is not provided at a convenient time but it has value when spontaneously given. She said: “Recently a flood opened many opportunities for [many] to first observe and then serve. Men, women, teenagers, and children saw businesses and homes destroyed and dropped everything to help clean and repair damaged structures. Some observed the need to help with the overwhelming task of doing laundry. Others painstakingly wiped down photographs, legal documents, letters, and other important papers and then carefully hung them out to dry to preserve whatever they could. Observing and then serving is not always convenient and doesn’t always fit our own timetable.”

Service, integrity, process, vision, honesty, and so forth: old names for timeless values. I truly believe there is a place for them even nowadays.




37 thoughts on “Leadership and Anti-leadership

      1. Excellent Alberto, thanks for the writing
        We do need to be reminded from time to time that life is a journey not a race and what we get out of it is what we put into it and how many people that we can help along the way

      2. Thank you Duane. I hope all is well with you and your family. Cheers and have a a very merry Christmas

  1. Thanks for sharing these reflections, Alberto – a good reminder of the potential pitfalls of leadership, as well as the important (even if informal) opportunities we all have to step up and lead.

  2. Great thoughts and ideas. We can all be leaders if we listen and then follow the points mentioned above. However if we are not good at all of them we can still do our best at all of them.

  3. Without leadership, the world becomes an anarchy. However there are “good” and “bad” leaders and I am sure we can all think of appropriate examples. Well articulated Alberto, in discusssing those traits that will identify a “good” leader. Oh that our leaders would display all of them ……at once!

  4. Alberto, great read. Thanks for the invite to read it. Sergiovanni writes about the concepts of transformational leadership and servant leadership which I think fit nicely in this conversation. Here is a link to one of his articles http://carmencampos.net/carmencampos.net/EDU_7701_files/On%20Rethinking%20Leadership-%20Sergiovanni.pdf

    Liz Wiseman, whom I am sure you fill find has an affinity for the writers you mention, has written a great book about leaders she calls magnifiers. Conversely, she talks about those who are diminishers. Leaders who rely on their position to influence others are often those who diminish the capacity of those they lead. This in turn diminishes the capacity of the organization.

    1. Thank you President. I read Sergiovanni’s article and I particularly liked the quote about being followers as the foundation of being leaders. This is an important principle that has more eternal and universal implications than others. I was not aware of Liz Wiseman’s work but it sounds that she has a deep understanding of leadership dynamics. I will research more of her work as I prepare teaching my leadership course next year. By the way, it was good to see you in Williams Lake and thank you for your inspired words at Dave’s service. Cheers

  5. Interesting perspective Alberto – it is funny how great leadership is self-evident to everyone even though they don’t have a title. They have a way of sticking their head up above the noise and finding the best way forward and at the same time are able to encourage the best from those around them. Great study and thanks for sharing.

  6. My leaders don’t show up as they used to, no more quarterly town hall meetings for us, the time has come for the “Law of the Harvest”. Leadership, we heard about it. But I’m not bitter. Good stuff Alberto!

    1. Thank you Cesare. If your leaders don’t so what they are supposed to do and lost touch with their “followers” then they are not leaders anymore. But you are with your drive to excellence. Cheers

  7. Alberto, I really enjoyed this, and also the other thoughtful quotes you’ve been posting on LinkedIn. Today, I was reminded of something I wrote down long ago from Confucius – his instructions for a king (or any leader!):

    “Be dignified, and people will be serious. Be sociable and kind, and people will be loyal. Promote the good, instruct the unskilled, and people will be enthusiastic.”

  8. Some great messages – the quote from Dieter Uchtdorf particularly resonated with me. It’s something that I’ve discovered and re-discovered a number of times in my life, that external circumstances don’t make us happy – we can determine our own happiness.

  9. Thanks Alberto for the insight. I can’t imagine being a leader and having any of the 10 characteristics of anti-leaders you listed. Sadly, though you see some of these in people from time to time. I think it is important that we work together to provide leadership training at an early stage of ones career in local government because many of our future leaders come from within our industry and are just starting their careers now. We must ensure that they don’t develop the wrong values/ideals.
    Thanks again,

  10. Great reminders at how to succeed at being a successful Anti-leader Alberto, and therefore, conversely, good traits to practice and embrace as a leader. I also especially like your reminder to always practice humility – good advice for all of us to never forget. Thank you, Larry

  11. First time I make a comment. I always knew that you where very knowledgible but I never realized that you are such a deep thinker. Gaetan

  12. I find it interesting how it is necessary to compartmentalize the topic based on our own perspectives or interests regarding the topic and within such limited space. I certainly realize this also speaks to how you might have conceptualized your blog in a stream of consciousness vs. ‘planning’ it. On the latter end, it is definitely a talent to write such short pieces and engage the reader as you definitely have in this case. On the topic at hand, in addition to some of your emphasis, I find interest in: the types of people who seek out formal leadership ‘positions’ and their needs; good governance; and formal accountability measures. Of course, some of these are on the list you included from your colleague, and call for a much larger discourse. Perhaps these can be addressed in your book on the topic. I was going to wink here but realize I have only read two of your blog entries and am not aware of your catalogue. 🙂 Great stuff.

    1. Thank you for your feedback. I see from your website that you live in Prince George and have a business consulting firm. Do you mind if I touch base once in a while?

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