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The Dark Side of Leadership

The Dark Side of Leadership - Sometimes the dark side of...

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Sometimes the dark side of leadership eclipses the bright side- to the detriment of both the leader and the organization. The Dark Side of Leadership JAY A. CONGER n I recent years, business leaders have gained great popularity: Lee Iaccoca and Steven Jobs, for example, have stepped into the limelight as agents of change and entrepreneur- ship. But though we tend to think of the posi- tive outcomes associated with leaders, certain risks or liabilities are also entailed. The very behaviors that distinguish leaders from managers also have the potential to produce problematic or even disastrous outcomes for their organizations. For example, when a leader’s behaviors become exaggerated, lose touch with reality, or become vehicles for purely personal gain, they may harm the leader and the organization. How do leaders produce such negative outcomes -and why? Three particular skill areas can contribute to such problems. These include leaders’ strategic vision, their commu- nications and impression-management skills, and their general management practices. We will examine each to discover its darker side. PROBLEMS WITH THE VISIONARY LEADER As we know, the 1970s and 1980s brought tremendous changes in the worlds competi- tive business environment. Previously success- ful organizations that had grown huge and bu- reaucratic were suddenly faced with pressures 44 to innovate and alter their ways. Out of these turbulent times came a new breed of business leader: the strategic visionary. These men and women, like Ross Perot of Electronic Data Sys- tems and Mary Kay Ash of Mary Kay Cos- metics, possessed a twofold ability: to foresee market opportunities and to craft organiza- tional strategies that captured these opportu- nities in ways that were personally meaning- ful to employees. When their success stories spread, “vision” became the byword of the 1980s. Yet though many of these leaders led their organizations on to great successes, others led their organizations on to great failures. The very qualities that distinguished the visionary leader contained the potential for disaster. Generally speaking, unsuccessful strategic visions can often be traced to the inclusion of the leaders’ personal aims that did not match their constituents’ needs. For example, leaders might substitute personal goals for what should be shared organizational goals. They might construct an organizational vision that is es- sentially a monument to themselves and there- fore something quite different from the actual wishes of their organizations or customers. Moreover, the blind drive to create this very personal vision could result in an inabil- ity to see problems and opportunities in the environment. Thomas Edison, for example, so passionately believed in the future of direct electrical current (DC) for urban power grids that he failed to see the more rapid acceptance of alternating power (AC) systems by Americas
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then-emerging utility companies. Thus the company started by Edison to produce DC power stations was soon doomed to failure.
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