Leadership Talk: What’s not being said

Let’s get real about what leading people in organization is really like. Let’s be truthful and open about what goes on in the inner and upper offices… Political gamesmanship is here to stay. It’s a stable part of leadership practices.

Can we handle reality? Or are we like Jack Nicholson said in A Few Good Men: “You can’t handle the truth!”

From a psychological standpoint, we prefer our leaders to be like movie stars and elected officials — idealized versions of who we want to be.

We talk about servant leaders, leading from the heart, and visionary leaders. We fail to discuss misuse of power, self-centeredness, political gamesmanship, favoritism, ego, competitive fire or manipulation — the unspoken leadership taboos.

So, how can we do a better job of identifying, developing, becoming and coaching leaders? It’s time to tackle these taboos up close and personal. I recommend a book on this topic by Anthony F. Smith, The Taboos of Leadership.

Taboos are emotional hot buttons that are too painful, embarrassing, threatening or complicated to talk about openly.

In an age when leaders aspire to achieve sincerity and transparency, we agree people should speak from their hearts and never disguise an opinion, feeling or worry, right?

But if this is the case, why is political gamesmanship such an unacknowledged aspect of surviving and succeeding in organizational life? Leaders at all levels need to be political. Some do it well, others not, and a few cross the line into unethical and manipulative behaviors.

Unless we are willing to admit the practice of political gamesmanship, and accept it openly as the way things get done, we ignore its strengths and inherent weaknesses. We won’t use it well unless we examine openly how and when and why we engage in political practices.

Because taboos usually hide the good with the proverbial bad and ugly, we don’t openly recognize them. This oversight, however, means we’ll never fully appreciate what makes leaders successful.

Although some say politics are the dark side of leadership, I say it’s a part of getting things done. If you don’t learn how to use it well, then you’re going to struggle.

What are your thoughts on this?

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