By Lt. Jim Glennon, Lombard, IL (ret.)
All the classes, theories, and techniques don’t mean a thing if a leader cannot conquer his shortcomings
What stops a marginal manger from successfully leading others? What must an ineffective supervisor overcome in order to finally begin influencing and motivating employees? What is the greatest hindrance to managing people effectively?
Not surprisingly the answer to all three questions is the same: Personality.
Whenever I write about poor leadership and shoddy management I know that I risk several things: alienating readers, inviting disdain, and encouraging argument that I’m either stating the obvious or am incredibly naïve. That’s fine, but the point still needs be made: Personality is the greatest obstacle to becoming an effective leader.
This isn’t rocket science. If the people who are supposed to do the job don’t trust their bosses, what can management possibly expect?
The biggest obstacle to any organization being successful in their particular endeavor is the relationship between line and management. The biggest obstacle for an individual to overcome in order to lead effectively is his or her own personality. Period.
All the classes, theories, and techniques don’t mean a thing if the personality can not conquer its shortcomings. Stubbornness, control issues, insecurity, obsessive-compulsive tendencies, selfishness, and fear all hinder leadership ability. But the most toxic personality trait in my estimation is: ego.
About ten years ago, I was teaching a leadership class for Northwestern in Philadelphia. Many in attendance were supervisors from the city and the Pennsylvania State Police. At some point I asked: “How many of you are lousy, hated, and ineffective supervisors?” There was a collective laugh but no one admitted that they matched the description. So I continued. “OK. You all know each other fairly well. Many of you work in the same agency. So let me ask this. Are there any lousy, ineffective supervisors in this room?”
Laughter erupted again but this time with accompanying shouts of, “You bet there are!” So I said, “OK, point them out.” Not surprisingly there were no takers. No one wanted to ‘out’ the poor supervisors. However, freewheeling discussion ensued among the group of approximately 50 people present.
I asked, “Wait a minute, if supervisors are smarter than 20 years ago, better trained, and more educated, how come we still have the same problems leading those in our charge?”
A Philly Captain named Tom immediately shouted out, “Jimmy, I know the answer. You can’t educate the ego out of assholes.”
The group erupted in wild agreement and raucous laughter.
I replied, “Tom, but apparently people like that are in this room.” He said, “Yep, but their egos won’t let them know who they are.”
Do you have any idea how many management, leadership, and general supervisory books are out there? How many management, leadership and general supervisory seminars exist? Never in the history of law enforcement have we had more managers holding Bachelor’s and Masters Degrees. Northwestern University’s Center for Public Safety, The FBI National Academy, The Southern Police Institute, and many other highly recognized institutions are educating and graduating police managers at a record pace. So what’s the problem?
Personality and ego are difficult to change and education alone won’t do it.
Is overcoming a personality problem impossible? No. Is it difficult? Yes. We all have our own wacky personality quirks, and we all have egos. But if you take a job that presupposes you will lead others, it is up to you to actually do that: lead. So begin by evaluating your own personality. Determine what aspects of it are an asset for leadership and what parts are a hindrance. And at the forefront your mind must always be this incredibly obvious reality:
In order to succeed, you are going to have to accept that understanding people, putting ego aside, and developing an organizational climate that encourages independence, creativity, and trust is absolutely essential. The way to start is by honest evaluation. After that, maybe those classes will do some good.