Leadership is as much a skill as sales, accounting, engineering or programming, but is rarely treated that way by companies making hiring decisions.
There is a lot of complicated management theory about management and leadership. There are detailed guides to choosing the correct management style. Should your leaders be Authoritative or Visionary or Transactional or a Pacesetter or a Servant or Democratic? You could spend your life studying the mountains of research and still be none the wiser. But the reality is likely to boil down to just one rule.
Don’t hire psychopathic leaders.
Leadership is as much a skill as sales, accounting, engineering or programming, but is rarely treated that way by companies making hiring decisions. A recent study has found that a staggering 82 per cent of hiring decisions concerning leadership roles select an inappropriate person. Companies are choosing the wrong person for the leadership role an alarming rate of only once in every five hires.
Leadership Talents = Engaged Employees
Gallup has spent two decades studying the performance of 27 million employees across hundreds of organisations. They have calculated that the innate leadership talents of managers account for 70 per cent of the variance in employee engagement from company to company.
In an average company in 2018, around 50 per cent of the employees were disengaged and a further 13 percent were actively disengaged. An actively disengaged worker has a miserable work experience and would quit tomorrow if they had any other choice.
The research shows that employee engagement is strongly linked to customer ratings, profitability, productivity, staff turnover, safety incidents, staff theft, absenteeism and product quality. There is however an easy solution at hand.
The research also shows that increasing the number of hires of talented leaders can significantly increase the engagement of employees. If the percentage of actively disengaged employees can be reduced below 10 per cent, then earnings can be increased dramatically.
Lowering Active Disengagement
In 2012 Gallup examined the performance of 49 publicly traded companies and compared their results with engagement results from their survey data. They found that companies that did manage to lower active disengagement experienced on average 147 per cent higher earnings per share than companies with more typical levels of active disengagement.
Hiring more talented managers can therefore have a massive and direct impact on the bottom line and a significant array of critical business measures. Gallup’s research has left it convinced that all good leaders share just five critical talents:
- They motivate every employee with a compelling mission and vision
- They are assertive, drive outcomes and persist in overcoming adversity and resistance
- They insist on clear accountability
- They enforce a culture of integrity and honesty and build relationships that create trust
- They make decisions based on productivity, not politics.
In short they must be honest, empathetic and have a clear vision. Or in even shorter, they must not be a psychopath.
The critical difference between a psychopath and the rest of us is their complete inability to feel empathy. There care for nobody but themselves and are quite happy to use any means possible to remove anything which gets between them and their goal. That goal is accumulating more power and money for themselves.
Power over People
As a general rule, a psychopath will be drawn to jobs which give them power over other people. Psychopaths believe they are superior to everybody and that the role of all other people is to deliver rewards to the psychopath.
Add this to their prodigious ability to charm interviewers, and their propensity to make up whatever achievements they need to get the job, and it’s easy to see how they may be fast-tracked. As a result, we can expect them to be towards the top of any corporate structure.
To the psychopath, the team that works for them need to be tightly controlled and completely compliant. Psychopaths achieve that using classic manipulation tactics, singling out members for public punishment, rotating those with favoured status, implementing ever more detailed micromanagement and the ramping up of secrecy.
The workplace under a psychopath is in constant turmoil. Factions are rife, sick leave sky-rockets, staff turnover becomes endemic and productivity drops like a stone.
Power of the People
Luckily the cure is easy. Well, easy to say. It’s honesty and transparency. The best place to hide a murder is in a massacre and the best place to hide a lie is in a company full of liars. It is much harder for a psychopath to use deceit to their advantage if everybody else is honest.
Companies that ban secret communication channels, reward honesty, punish dishonesty, encourage whistle-blowing and who have strong, honest and independent human resources divisions (and boards that listen to them) are much more likely to control psychopaths and massively limit the harm they can inflict.
This will not stop you employing psychopaths but it will ensure they are working for the greater good of your company rather than destroying its culture and its future.