“Power is like being a lady. If you tell people you are, you aren’t.”
Margaret Thatcher: British Prime Minister
What makes a leader, how do they act and how do you recognise a leader?
Leadership is always a topical subject. Not everyone in a leadership position is a ‘natural’ leader.
Here are some questions that are often asked:
- Can we improve our image by managing perceptions?
Perceptions can become reality if managed well.
Few people could argue that Margaret Thatcher was not a leader. You may not agree with her, however there was no doubt that she was in charge. She never used her gender as a prop, although she was the only female in her first cabinet. Unfortunately, today we too often see managers use their title to impress and claim that they are in charge, yet intuitively you know, that in reality, they are poor and ineffective leaders.
- Is the use of titles an excuse to tell people who they are or who they think they are thereby hiding their personal inadequacies?
Maybe they are intellectually dishonest, or living in a fantasy world or are not authentic leaders?
- Who are they reassuring?
Politicians are notorious for using props to explain away their failings. They are just excuses for poor performance.
We have all had experiences where we have witnessed or worked for managers who are protected by a title. I can remember working with a person who always let slip in the first two sentences of a conversation that he was the managing director. Whilst there may be good reasons for mentioning the fact that you are the managing director early in the conversation, most people will probably identify it as a prop and not a sign of ‘being in charge’. Interestingly in this example, he was considered by staff and many customers as ‘a bit of a joke’ with little or no self-awareness. Props such as your position, background, perceived social position, or using race or gender as excuses can be signals that tell others that you are inauthentic and not really in charge.
How often to you go into an organisation and recognise that the real leader in charge is not the one protected by their title?
Whether it is in a meeting or simply walking the floor of a warehouse it is often quite easy to spot who is really in charge. The clues are normally in how they conduct themselves, whether it is how they walk, their demeanour, their gestures and postures or just quite confidence. They appear in control and look the part. On the other extreme, I know a business owner who is often dressed in jeans, scruffy track shoes and a t-shirt. He does not look the part. This is the first step in managing perception. I know he has failed to obtain business through his appearance. Perception became reality.
Genuine leaders can manage perception and do not need to use a title as a prop. There is a significant business risk if the person with the managerial title is not seen as really being the leader in charge.
As leaders within or in an organisation, it is critical that this be recognised. Initially ask yourself some questions:
- Do I look and act the part?
- If not, how do I give the perception of being in charge and a leader?
The ball is in your court………..
A humorous example of poor leadership and using titles as a prop is found in the BBC TV series episode of Faulty Towers “A Touch of Class”. It’s worth watching. Basil Fawlty the hotel proprietor, who is in reality, not in charge of the hotel fawns over a guest with a title only to find that the titled guest is actually a fraudster wanted by the police. A Touch of Class