Monday, 1 May 2017

Leadership: Trading Places and Being There




I've been meaning to write "the trading places and being there theory of leadership" for several years and haven't got around to doing it so thought I would just beta blog it quickly to at least share the idea ... it's about how those in positions of authority get away with it. 

The idea comes from the films Trading places and Being There. In Trading places a homeless man and an upper-class commodities broker trade places ... in turns out the homeless man is able to do the job of the commodities broker just fine ... even better. In Being There, because of circumstances a simple minded gardener is taken to be an upper-class, highly educated businessman and how his words about gardening are taken to be deep and brilliant advice about politics and leadership.

President "Bobby": Mr. Gardner, do you agree with Ben, or do you think that we can stimulate growth through temporary incentives?

Chance the Gardener: As long as the roots are not severed, all is well. And all will be well in the garden.

President "Bobby": In the garden.

Chance the Gardener: Yes. In the garden, growth has it seasons. First comes spring and summer, but then we have fall and winter. And then we get spring and summer again.

President "Bobby": Spring and summer.

Chance the Gardener: Yes.

President "Bobby": Then fall and winter.

Chance the Gardener: Yes.

Benjamin Rand: I think what our insightful young friend is saying is that we welcome the inevitable seasons of nature, but we're upset by the seasons of our economy.


Chance the Gardener: Yes! There will be growth in the spring!


Social psychology like Milgram's experiments with obediance and authority the Stanford Prison Experiment, Erving Goffman's The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life and our cognitive biases are at the heart of this. Its about the extent we are "programmed" by roles and see what we want to see. Just because someone occupies a position of authority most of us seem programmed to assume they can walk on water - they know best .. that they know what they are doing and that we play our role in following the leader.

Winning is everything ... leaders know this ... promises are made but once the leadership role is won we all play our roles in the "honeymoon" and the leader becomes ensconced ... usually scorching the earth and changing the rules to keep them in game and however incompetent there is a platform of support that keeps things running - leaders have to be truly impressive to actually break things.

It should come as no surprise that 1 in 5 leaders have clinically significant levels of psychopathic traits ... it could well be that the incidence of psychopathy increases the higher you go. Leadership is a comfort zone for psychopaths .... the type of ruthless, win at all costs attitude is respected in many leadership positions - we come to expect leaders to be manipulative and controlling and and the public seem to prefer the "strong leadership" of psychopaths ... especially in difficult times.

"confident, assertive, and focused on self-interests. They know what they want (to be the leader), they believe they are the best person for the job, and they have no doubt that they should be in charge and they have no doubt that they should be in charge" ... a connection between narcissism and leadership should also come as no surprise - I'm . Many (if not most) leaders have big egos and like nothing more than that ego to be stroked ... this is one of the trappings of leadership and if unchecked becomes one of the traps of leadership - driven by unyielding arrogance, self-absorption, and a personal egotistic need for power and admiration leaders who are too narcissistic are convinced they are right, sensitive to criticism, and may ignore valid warnings. Because they lack empathy, they are not sensitive to the impact of their behavior on others, and they may act out. Moreover, leaders with too much narcissism begin to believe they can walk on water and that they are above the law. The rules that govern others don’t apply to them, and they may engage in illegal or unethical behavior – and that is the downfall of many narcissistic leaders."

Is there hope ... well .. not all leaders are psychopaths and not all leaders are narcissists and not all followers are sheep an not all followers are sycophants  :)



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