Do outspoken CEOs make the best leaders?

Organisations suffer from hiring people who are 'all talk with no results'

Do outspoken CEOs make the best leaders?

How would our leadership appointments change if we looked for competence, humility and courage before judging on how confident someone appears?

That’s a question posed by Megumi Miki, leadership and culture specialist and founder of Quietly Powerful.

According to Miki, by paying more attention to potential leaders beyond those who appear confident and are outspoken, we will not only expand the talent pool from which our select leaders, we will enhance the quality of leadership.

In a Harvard Business Review (HBR) article Do you hate your boss? Manfred F.R. Kets de Vries shares a global survey where 70% of employees are not engaged at work and they did not have anything nice to say about their bosses.

Miki also cited Gallup research which reports that companies fail to choose the candidate with the right management talent for the job a staggering 82% of the time.

When managers account for 70% of variance in employee engagement scores and study after study show that engagement impacts productivity, turnover and profitability, the quality of leadership is a real issue.

Miki, who is also author of ‘Quietly Powerful: How your quiet nature is your hidden leadership strength, said it’s not to say there aren’t any good leaders out there.

She argued that we hear of too many stories about leadership failures despite billions of dollars being invested in leadership development.

Poor leadership is showing up at organisational, political and social levels, locally and globally. We should therefore ask ourselves:

  • Are we selecting the right type of people for leadership positions?
  • Are we developing the right mindsets, skills and behaviours in our leaders?

It is time to challenge our default assumptions, such as seeing confident, outspoken people as the best leadership talent, she added.

Miki outlines the below five reasons why the confident-looking people are not necessarily your best leaders:

We are fooled by confident-looking people
A phenomenon known as the ‘awestruck effect’ has been researched and is described as being awestruck by charismatic leaders, heroes and entertainers such that we lose our capacity to think rationally and can be easily manipulated.

Professor Adam Grant said that senior leaders promote the wrong leaders because they overestimate their ability to choose leadership talent and get fooled by the more self-centred ‘takers’ who tend to be better self-promoters.

Appearance of confidence is regularly mistaken as competence. Organisations suffer from hiring people who are ‘all talk with no results.’

It is dangerous to assume confidence as leader-like
Appearing confident does not always equate to feeling confident inside. You may know people who look and speak confidently, but when given corrective feedback they get defensive, aggressive or shut down.

It’s a hint that there’s a bit of confidence and self-esteem missing. This insecurity can lead to misuse of positional power for self-interest and preservation.

Unfortunately, charisma and confidence can also mask narcissistic and ‘psychopathic’ tendencies. Research by Nicole Mead at the University of Melbourne showed that people who crave power and attention are more likely to turn narcissistic when they gain power.

Worse, we let them get away with abusing their power, either because we believe they can do no wrong, or because we are too afraid to call them out. Consequently, there is danger in being awestruck by confident-looking leaders.

Outspoken leaders can crush others’ leadership potential
Many organisations say they want people to ‘step up’ and show leadership at every level. Unfortunately, overly confident leaders can dominate such that people around them are unable to step up.

If you see people in an organisation looking to the positional leaders to make decisions, fix the problems or simply going along with the positional leaders’ ideas, you have a problem.

Quiet professionals often comment on how difficult it is for them to get a word in when others, especially leaders, are outspoken. They can also give up on their leadership aspirations when they are regularly overlooked.

Reluctant leaders are sometimes your best leaders
Having interviewed 29 quietly powerful leaders who are not the typical outspoken leader, I discovered that many never thought of themselves as leaders initially. Many of them had a manager, mentor or a coach who saw their potential and encouraged them to lead. They are powerful leaders because they:

  • step into leadership roles for a bigger purpose, not to gain power and status for themselves.
  • do not develop a sense of entitlement or self-importance and remain humble.
  • develop their own authentic style of leadership, rather than trying to impress others.
  • are committed to their own development as they acknowledge their weaknesses.
  • look for opportunities to develop others, knowing they were supported by others.

Organisations are overlooking potential high-quality leaders
Too often, people who may not appear confident, quieter or do not show ambition get overlooked, even if they are highly capable, potentially a highly effective, inclusive, collaborative and humble leader.

Dr Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, author of Why do so many incompetent men become leaders? says “Traits like over-confidence and self-absorption… prompt us to say, ‘Ah, there’s a charismatic fellow! He’s probably leadership material!’

The result is a surplus of incompetent men in charge, and this surplus reduces opportunities for competent people – women and men – while keeping the standards of leadership depressingly low.”

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