20 Jul 2021

Will the entitled leader ever die?

Will the entitled leader ever die?

Have you heard of black leaders Awareness Day?

Black leaders Awareness Day was created to enable people from all cultures to experience the wisdom of the past, the current and next generation leaders through speeches, quotes and videos.

As we celebrate this important day, my mind is drawn to our leaders of today…those who are shining lights – I would say pretty much everyone in the current England Football team.  It then contrasts such effective leadership with those currently in important positions of leadership for our country – who in my opinion are far from that standard.

As budding engineering graduate over 40 years ago, I remember sitting in my management studies class. I remember being taught about empowerment and equality and the force of distributed leadership…that this would be the kind of leadership that would succeed as our careers developed…and how it was going to be very different from the old ‘command and control’ kind of leadership of the past.  This made me sit up and take a keen interest in the art and science of leadership. I was hopeful of a fantastic new future in which talent would succeed.

Recent events in sport and politics have made me reflect again on what I was taught back then…and become really concerned about whether ‘the entitled leader’ of old will ever die.  Did my management studies teachers have it all wrong?  Are we stuck with the ‘entitled leader’ from now to eternity?

As I reflect on these questions today, it worries me that the style of leadership that gains support from the majority of people in our country is that of the ‘entitled leader’.  They say you get the leaders you deserve.  Is it because we are so gullible as a nation that we allow ourselves to be convinced by these ‘entitled’ leaders, resulting in:

  • the poor becoming poorer and the rich become richer?
  • the health of our nation both physically and economically being destroyed through a lack of thoughtful planning and implementation?
  • the way in which those ‘leading’ our country can get away with one rule for them and one rule for the rest of us?

For a few moments this summer, I was inspired, and actually very hopeful that this ‘old world’ style of leadership had changed.   When I saw the England team in action – on and off the pitch…and the way our nation got behind them and roared our lions to near total victory…and victory nonetheless.

The moment those penalties were missed, the rhetoric changed – almost instantaneously.

How could that happen?

I was shocked by the response, and have since been in an inquiry about what causes that kind of reaction.

It led me to ponder on the question: “what kind of leadership do we as a country, respect and admire and want?”

  • How could the amazing leadership of Gareth Southgate and the whole English team suddenly be destroyed by a racist backlash?
  • How could we forget those who fuelled a level of success that the English team had not seen for 55 years, suddenly be spoken about in such disparaging ways?
  • How can who they as talented human beings, not to mention the contribution they are making within the game, and outside be brushed aside so quickly?
  • How can the success of the whole team be dissolved under such a level of racist rhetoric?

Do we as a nation want the entitled leader to be dominant, or do we want the kind of leadership that was demonstrated by our national football team, and its management?  The kind of leadership that I call ‘the evolved leader’.

So let me start this inquiry with you by distinguishing between what I'm calling the ‘entitled’ leader and what I'm calling the ‘evolved’ leader.

The entitled leader is the kind of leader the world has known for most of the 20th and 21st centuries…and possibly extending way back into history.

This is the kind of person whose focus is on their own success, and consequently they respond moment by moment to what's happening around them with a short term, self-benefit focus. They want to maintain their position, and they're reacting, rather than thinking through what needs to happen.  Their style of leadership is typically very directive.  The people they spend time with are usually a very small exclusive group.  Their persona, you could describe as arrogant. They're very head directed so they're driven by their thoughts – usually short-term thoughts.  Their access to power is usually based on some kind of privilege they have over the majority.  This is the kind of leader I would describe as the privileged leader. Now, that kind of leader may have many types of privilege that enabled them to achieve their position.  They may even have some under privilege experience. But somehow, their other traits and the other enablers that they have inherited have given them some level of privilege.

A good example of such a leader would be Priti Patel.  Whilst she may not have had the stereotypical kind of privilege enjoyed by those who have super-ordinately wealthy parents, whilst she may have attended a comprehensive school and not be from the privileged public-school set, she has had the benefit of a good education, parents who had a successful newsagents chain.  She did experience racism growing up…and most likely in her professional life.  However it seems to me that she is a bit of a ‘poacher turned gamekeeper’ in this respect.  The conservative party often site the fact that she experienced racism.  I don’t know Priti Patel personally…nor know very much about her.  But what I do know that racism is not just from white people.  Might it be that she has an element of racism against black people?  I’m just saying…. Or, being kinder, could it be that she thought by refusing to condemn people who ‘booed’ the footballers for being united in taking the knee…and describing their action as ‘gesture politics’ she thought she would appeal to her core voter base?  Either way, it is my strong belief that her response fuelled the bad behaviour that followed the final.

One thing I have observed as a pattern in the history of leaders who behave in this ‘entitled’ way is that somewhere in their family history there has been some kind of trauma that has caused a shift in their privileged situation…after which the family has rebuilt its privileged situation.  For example, with Priti Patel’s family the need to leave India.  With Boris Johnson’s family, the need to leave Turkey.  I wonder if they have learned to be reactive in order to survive and regain or surpass their past position?

Is this what enables people like Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak to think they can get away with not self-isolating when they were pinged?  They are opening us up to so much danger without taking steps to gradually come out of lockdown, and worse still, pushing the consequences and likely the blame for anything that could end up in a catastrophe onto us rather than being leaders and managing the situation thoughtfully.

Let’s just take a look at the kind of leader, who, for me at least, is altogether more inspiring.  Our political leaders’ behaviour and action is in stark contrast to the proactive approach the England football leadership team took - really taking the time to understand the conditions, the circumstances, the way the different country teams played and the strategies they used to just find that little gap in the opposition to crack open.    As a result of having put in all the thought before the match, they were about to cause success on the pitch.

When I look at Gareth Southgate's leadership style, as well as many members of the current England football team - the behaviours and traits they've demonstrated are focused very much on the success of the whole team.  I don’t mean just results based on a match or a championship – although that must be the main focus. I also mean success in the way they care about each other - why they take the knee.  They also care about each other in terms of having fun together and looking after each other.   So when I say their focus is team success it actually goes beyond the result at the end of the game.  They are proactive.  They are looking out for each other.  They are looking out for society. They are going out in society and making sure the poor are fed, making sure people from less privileged neighbourhoods are given opportunities to grow and develop and benefit and get to where they've got to. They are very supportive of each other, and they are supportive of the team as a whole.  In my view each member of that squad is a leader in their own right.

As leaders, they are inclusive.  They will look at wherever somebody might feel excluded, and do what's required to enable that person to experience being included. Their approach is much more humble and much less arrogant. Their approach is really to not beat themselves up. That's not what they are interested in.  They are driven by their heads in that they are strategic, but they are equally driven by their hearts.   They think and act upon what matters to them ethically and what has integrity. Their power base is skill. The skill of the intellect in analysing different games, different players, different teams, and positioning themselves in exactly the right place. The skill of the physical actions in producing the results. The skill of knowing how to be with people who are like them and people who are not like them.

So all of this leads me to wonder how people who are:

  • self-success focused as opposed to team success focused
  • reactive as opposed to proactive
  • directive as opposed to supportive
  • exclusive as opposed to inclusive
  • arrogant, as opposed to humble
  • head directed as opposed to head and heart integrate and
  • entitlement based rather than skill based

…still have survived as leaders and hold such dominant positions in running our country?

Three questions I am reflecting on right now are:

  1. How has the ‘entitled leader’ survived for so long?
  2. What keeps them in place? and
  3. What is required for us to create a culture in which the ‘evolved’ leader thrives?

I would love to hear your thoughts.

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