We have analyzed thousands of employee surveys across the world and conducted live interviews with employees on six continents. We have discovered that when the “superior leader” approach has outlived its value, the employee experience includes three damaging impacts: fear, mechanics, and manipulation. If these experiences dominate long enough, it could kill your business.

What is a superior leader?

This approach is, at best, benevolent domination. Many leaders have produced significant value doing exactly this. The results, however, are rarely sustainable after the organization grows enough to require self-supervising work. There are exceptions, but they tend to feature unusual competitive advantages like unique technology, market opportunity, or a creatively disruptive business model – and even those eventually deteriorate.

How can you tell if your leaders are slowly killing your company?

Take a moment to self evaluate your organization, or better yet, ask around and see what people have to say in these 3 areas:

  • Does FEAR reign? Are people afraid of embarrassment, failure, retribution or generally disappointing someone in a position of power? When people experience fear, they tend to avoid conflict and suppress open dialogue. That lack of candor is a major cause of waste, stress and mistrust. Another way to measure if fear reigns in the business is if people admit that criticism and threat feel normal to their work. When fear is pervasive, people don’t share ideas and creativity and the business suffers from lack of innovation.
  • Do mechanics rule? Do people report how bureaucratic rules and habits keep them from getting work done? Rather than feeling supported by processes that make the right thing easy, do they feel like the right thing is hard? Do people express concern over domination of out-of-date process and measures that impede contribution? Those processes seem to lack a living spirit because they make employees feel like inanimate objects rather than human beings who want to help. This will ultimately make your best and brightest people leave because they won’t be able do the right thing.
  • Does manipulation create distrust in communication? Do people report that leaders are falsely positive instead of open and honest about the problems facing the company and them personally? If so, authenticity is the exception and not the norm. Do leaders lecture employees about better behavior rather than demonstrating the behavior themselves? Does the company make brand promises in marketing campaigns that feel nothing like how it operates day to day? If so, manipulation exists and distrust is growing. Sooner or later, the truth will get out and employees won’t be the only ones who distrust your organization, customers will too.

We are not saying that superior leaders are committed to fear, mechanics and manipulation; we are saying that the this leadership approach frequently generates these experiences as the enterprise outgrows the personal brilliance of its leaders. If your associates are reporting these types of experiences, it is good evidence that it is time to consider a shift in leadership development.

Shifting to a Connected Leader Approach

Employees of a connected leader organization report very different things. They report a culture of energized high performance – a vitality exists within the company. When asked what explains their energy, commitment, and success, employees report these things:

  • Community – a sense of belonging, rooted in common values and purpose. Differences are appreciated and are combined with trust to produce brilliance. Connected leaders create trust so there is always an account in the relational bank when they need to make a withdrawal.
  • Contribution – a feeling that they are making a meaningful difference. The enjoyment of contribution is deeply human. When vitality is the norm, people report feeling like they are part of the solution rather than the problem. Connected leaders are able to do this by recognizing contributions, making the right thing easy and the wrong thing hard in support of those contributions.
  • Choice – a victory of commitment over compliance. Each of us chooses to be devoted or not; it cannot be demanded. When vitality is present, people report thoroughly understanding strategy and priorities and personally choose to support success. Connected leaders have the awareness and skill needed to inspire committed choice rather than demanding compliance.

Looking to learn more about how to make the shift from the superior leader to the connected leadership approach in your organization? Take our connected leader review and then begin to focus on these seven leadership qualities:

  • Presence – Be aware without prejudice.
  • Empathy – Appreciate people’s purposes, worries and circumstances
  • Purpose – Find the intersection of personal resolves and those of the enterprise
  • Authenticity – Accelerate achievement through truth and discover how conflicts can provide useful intelligence
  • Wonder – Fuel the fire by allowing curiosity to free you from imaginary limits
  • Timing – Allow evolution to prevail over revolution by acting upon “what is it time for now”
  • Surprising results – Design and deliver work in short cycles of surprise

If you would like to learn more about becoming a connected leader, read our book The Vitality Imperative. For more tips and more valuable tools, check out thevitalityimperative.com

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