Alex Adamopoulos, CEO of emergn, a global consultancy focused on supporting development projects, change management and business transformation projects with a blend of agile and lean principles, shares his opinion on what stereotypical leadership is and why it should be avoided.
It’s been said that stereotypes are devices for saving a biased person the trouble of learning. The word stereotype denotes a belief about a certain type of individual, a group of individuals or roles that people fit into. Whether we admit it or even realise it, we have stereotypes for all types of people and roles.
- In our minds, we put people and roles into silos and categories.
- We have expectations of people and roles that are often based on our views rather than who the person might be or what the role is actually designed to do.
- We maintain preconceived notions about such people and roles.
- We feel exonerated when people act the way we said they would and surprised when they don’t.
Even if we agree that stereotypes can be limiting or even hurtful, they exist. What do you think about when I mention the used car salesman or the politician? What about a specific C level executive?
It seems that even when someone hasn’t had a direct experience with a particular stereotype they inherently understand it or can relate somehow. Stereotypes seem to permeate our lives and the difficulty with stereotypes is that they frequently create barriers and impediments for us and for the possible relationships we might actually want to have and can benefit greatly from.
While stereotypes can seem negative they can also have value if we choose to take action. If we know that they exist then we can prepare for how we might manage them. We can consider how we might improve them or help do away with them altogether in our sphere of influence. In other words, the fact that stereotypes exist means that we can use that knowledge to introduce change and to find ways to make a difference.
In business, leaders and managers are not exempt from stereotypes. In companies there are distinct types of leaders and managers that we can all relate to. Perhaps we’ve not considered how we might categorise them but if we were to discuss certain people we know we would likely find ourselves agreeing about their behaviours, characteristics and work styles as compared to others.
The challenge and risk with describing any stereotype is that there will be common themes across some or all. The objective here is not to endorse stereotypes but rather to point out that at least these four do exist in organisations and are ones that I’ve experienced and have had colleagues describe often.
- Hands-on, gets stuff done and wants to see tangible results;
- Tends to lead by example, isn’t afraid to dig deep and get involved;
- Strong work ethic, rarely thinks or says “it’s not my job”.
- Sometimes too hands-on, gets in the way of others who should be leading;
- Can lean towards micromanagement, not trusting the group or organisation;
- Typically has too much on their plate, believes they should have a hand in everything.
- Is the go-to person when problem resolution is needed, usually has a good answer;
- Leverages their network well – seems to know everybody – “I know a guy”;
- Known as being handy, providing creative answers to most problems and challenges.
- Can be over-confident in their ability to “fix” things, getting stretched thin;
- Doesn’t easily admit they might not have the answer in fear of losing the respect and trust of peers and direct reports;
- Exaggeration sometimes makes up for insecurity – it isn’t uncommon for them to always have a story or share a related experience that makes them look good.
- Oozes with experience and credibility, proven in their respective field;
- Typically well liked and respected, charismatic and trusted by colleagues;
- Good manager of people, knows how to hold teams together and build something.
- Can believe their own press clippings, making them ineffective and arrogant;
- Past success can lead to losing focus in the here and now, in other words forgetting that you can’t live off of yesterday’s breakfast;
- There is a risk of losing the mental toughness needed to keep things moving in the right direction.
- Can be a good figurehead for the given role based on their past success and history;
- Possesses credibility even if they don’t have the specific industry experience;
- Tends to be a good networker and social butterfly.
- Seems to take credit for most good things no matter how small;
- Looks out for themselves more than others, a bit self-serving;
- Sometimes a bit sterile in the way they work – not really looking to get their hands dirty, delegation often serves as a substitute for simply not wanting to get involved.
In the end, our aim regardless of what role we play should be to avoid the trap of stereotypes and focus more on how we can leverage what the people in our organisations do best so that we’re all fit for purpose. In the words of Colin Powell, “Fit no stereotypes. Don’t chase the latest management fads. The situation dictates which approach best accomplishes the team’s mission.”