False or true leadership? We are –hopefully– ending an era of narcissistic leadership style in America, in which 70 million people unfortunately got engaged. Half of Americans seem to be blind to these “leadership values,” without seeing fault in their leader, no matter what that leader does or say.
In truth, it is a combination of factors that lead them to follow a narcissistic leader, who has very powerful and manipulative set of skills. Not uncommonly, we find these same elements in the corporate and business world. It has become an often practice to try to become a leader “at any cost” to gain following.
What can we learn from Tony Hsieh?
Tony Hsieh —who died at 46 in an unfortunate fire accident–, led Zappos, the online shoe retailer, for two decades. According to his own words, he was not passionate about shoes but about creating excellent customer service and a trusting company culture.
His accomplishment was based on the framework of happiness, with four factors required to build a successful company: “Perceived control, perceived progress, connectedness (meaning the depths of relationships), and being part of something bigger than yourself.”
As you see, Hsieh did not glorified himself but worked at establishing a company with positive employees and customers’ perceptions, building trust about what Zappos was, at the time a new concept or “cause.”
Now positive perceptions take time and dedication, and building trust is a matter of clear leadership. Or is it?
The cost of true leadership
The topic of leadership has been pushed so much lately –especially among women– that is has become a race to who is more self-centered, manipulative and obsessed with personal branding, all staged nicely on social media.
We live in an era of “validation addiction.” Many aspiring leaders “starve recognition,” needing constant validation from peers and colleagues, which they seek by adulating others or, worst, dismissing others behind scenes or even publicly to look and feel good about themselves.
While there are a number of accomplished female leaders that are gaining recognition in many industries -tech, financial, sports, politics, and other male-dominated industries-, recognizing and practicing true leadership is mostly a matter of integrity and self-awareness, and constant vigilance over our own behaviors.
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If you live your life in disarray, how can you admire and follow a true compassionate leader? If you cheat and manipulate your way up in the corporate ladder, how can you support someone who calls for decency and restrain? if you become suspicious of everything and everyone around you, how can you not blame all that happens in your life to “fake news”?
False leaders and narcissism
“Fake it until you make it” is a very common expression that I learned in sales many years ago. You show up in your best clothes, look like a star and your act like one. Then, according to this philosophy, people will believe you are a successful leader, and follow you.
The problem is, if you lack the wisdom and the vision to bring those people together, the only weapons you are left with are manipulation and adulation. While everything these false leaders do is geared to attract the attention to themselves, they constantly adulate others to look empathic.
Everything they or others in their area of influence achieve is “fantastic” and “unbelievable,” –or what I call the “battle of emojis”– but the real attention is always on themselves, making believe “others” are “great,” either because they led them or because they “recognize” the actions of others, preying other people’s validation addiction.
Even in parenting, there’s a constant need to praise children for the minimal actions they perform, stimulating this addiction for constant validation that does not exist later in the real world.
Meanwhile, these leaders lack substance and true stand in their actions. They also prey on ideas and position of others as long as it serves their purpose. If team players fail them -in their mind-, they react negatively, blaming others for their own limitations. They use people like they use makeup, just to look good and hide their own imperfections. They just cannot see their shortcomings; their world swirls around themselves.
Ten values of true leadership
You can find a lot of literature, online and on books, about leadership, servant leadership, and leaders’ emotional intelligence. Let’s remember the 10 most recognized values of true leadership:
Humility vs. enormous ego and grandiose personality or false humility.
- Inspire others
To work for something greater than ourselves vs. constantly showing off.
Being true to self and true to others, and showing self- respect and respect to others vs. false self-awareness and shortcomings’ denial.
- Vision and purpose
Market and business savvy vs. lack of vision to conduct a cause -usually jumping on vision of others.
Acting with integrity and building trust and credibility vs, taking ownership of other people’s knowledge, position or actions.
- Commitment and Passion
Tenacity and fortitude to the cause they belief in vs. being opportunistic and jumping at “leadership” opportunities.
Making the right decision for the cause at any cost vs. compromising the cause by manipulating others without offering real solutions.
- Accountability and Transparency
True leadership takes its share of blame when things go wrong and gives credit to others when success is achieved vs. creating situations of personal or professional conflict of interest.
- Good communicator
Clearly communicating the vision of their cause and being a good listener vs. talking incessantly to impose their thinking and mentioning themselves as “examples” or standards to follow.
- Savvy decision-maker
Recognize and be ready to change course when necessary, delegate and empower vs. holding on to power and “silo-ing” people, and “dividing to conquer.”
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Making a fearless inventory of your leadership values would help you recognize the type of leader you are, and work towards achieving recognition based on your substance and compassion. True leadership is never announced but always proclaimed.