Negative leadership

Sirajuddin Aziz
April 06, 2020

There has been so much of delicate hair-splitting of the concept of leadership in the past decade; ranging from the traditional debate between born leader or made, to situational, transactional, transformational, thought leader to the most amazing authentic leadership. To add my two bits to this continuous uncalled for dissection, leading to more and more of less and less, this piece I am dedicating to the concept of ‘negative leadership’. In doing so the realm of political leadership is being deliberately avoided in this article, because it is actually a needed trait in politicians, to be generally negative to views of all others. Opposition in politics is rarely positive or constructive.

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There has been so much of delicate hair-splitting of the concept of leadership in the past decade; ranging from the traditional debate between born leader or made, to situational, transactional, transformational, thought leader to the most amazing authentic leadership. To add my two bits to this continuous uncalled for dissection, leading to more and more of less and less, this piece I am dedicating to the concept of ‘negative leadership’. In doing so the realm of political leadership is being deliberately avoided in this article, because it is actually a needed trait in politicians, to be generally negative to views of all others. Opposition in politics is rarely positive or constructive.

The corporate world has to also contend with people of negative bent of mind, who by an act of nature or by pure corporate diabolical machinations make it to the apex of an organisation. It is another reality that managers possessed of negative tendencies are in fact a self-proclamation of their inferiority.

Their attitude at work place is to react, with the proverbial, at the drop of the hat (any adverse event), the pot calls the kettle black. A major characteristic is they, negative leaders, take no responsibility; they know the art of deflecting responsibility and taking undue credit, for any good that happens. The epitaph on their desks reads; “for all things bad, the buck stops, not here”. They very professionally shift blame and responsibility.

Those who enjoy the sight to see colleagues in distress, such supervisors would assign task and set most impossible timelines for accomplishment. The sadistic pleasure from a guaranteed failure of a colleague, is for them a good reason to aspire for. Sometimes even the assignments are not within the folds of practical achievement.

As an example, in these unprecedented times of COVID-19, how many business houses would be voluntarily reducing business budgets, to give psychological relief, on the already heightened levels of toxic anxiety of staff members? Possibly, none! The results on a no choice basis or fait accompli will be accepted, but voluntary relief would not be an offer.

Negative leaders are a menace to the organisation and the industry as a whole. Harsh words break no bones, except the ‘spirit’. I have seen managers causing deliberate and most unnecessary stress for their colleagues.

They would do everything to destroy the work-life balance of their team members. The simplest way they resort to do so, begins with assigning, from their standpoint, “immediate tasks”, very late in the day, with command of expectation, that the job must be completed before the day’s end. Now colleagues set themselves about to seek completion that usually would take a few hours beyond the stated call of duty hours. In some cases of extreme urge of corporate sadistic pleasures, I have witnessed supervisors, after assigning a task to a colleague, leave for home; he (supervisor) may have had a private dinner arrangement with his family. The knowledge of such facts devastates the spirit of the team. I am certain, if not similar or at least akin to this, all my readers would have seen being enacted in their institution. The hump on the camel is unseen to him, while the rest of the world sees it clearly.

Negative leadership, firstly, does not believe in taking decisions, secondly once taken, they will ensure it is not communicated; thirdly, if it is communicated, they pass the buck in the event of a mishap and fourthly, if it is a decision with successful result, they singularly take ownership.

This attitude is meant to infuse a sense of suspense. An environment of fear. Managers and front line business promotion colleagues require fast decisions, depending on changing market dynamics, on almost daily basis. If denied, they become victims of unnecessary delays resulting in stress; no negative leader revises downwards business number despite changed economic environment.

For effective decision making, the availability of related information is of extreme criticality. In the current era of information age, there ought to be free flow of information.

Many a manager deliberately withhold information, or they release it selectively. They are insecure. The possession of information and its possible successful use by teammates is taken as threat to their own standing. How much more can there be reflection of negative leadership; where the outstanding performance of team mates is not rejoiced upon, but actually mourned deeply, inside. The setting in of sadness at the glory of others is a despicable thought. But that it does happen on the shop floor is a reality too.

Distancing between oneself and the team is a sound route of adoption for instillation of fear and stress. Lack of access creates an aura (false thought!), this is done invariably to make sure staff is kept in a state of don’t know, what to expect next? An executive who takes thrill at creating suspense for his colleagues is not a novelty; they are a reality, both in the orient and western culture.

Nitpicking is another trait predominantly present in negative managers/ leadership. They are brimming each day with fresh supply to the potent reservoir of negative energy that they draw upon to inflict upon others, at every single opportunity. These types have a heightened sense of cynicism.

They taunt. They hurt by choice of words in conversation. They terrorise through well spaced demonstration of fits and anger, during which despite their obvious ugliness seen by all, they miss no opportunity to use “choice words”. Negative leadership is usually of high intellect. Consequently the choice words are delivered selectively, in the presence of an audience, who they would usually have well assessed to be docile and passive. Since negative managers are bullies and cowards, they never take-on, the belligerent and the bold. Managers who shout at others do not realise the wounds they cause to their own selves. Negativity eats nothing except its own heart.

Threat is an ultimate weapon in the arsenal of a negative manager. Threat of what? As said, the intellectual level of such individuals is high, so the use of threat is done sparingly and rarely with the final act of “suggesting” dismissal. If an organisation gives unbridled powers to individuals to hire and fire, or even if it is not officially given, but is forcibly acquired, is a good enough platform for creating “corporate Frankenstein”. They ravage and breathe fire upon colleagues with threats of termination. I recently learnt that in an institution, a new kid on the block, started to collect ----- without knowledge to his supervisors, undated ‘resignation letters’ from his reports. He would threat to put a date himself, if his commands of meeting the unbelievably unrealistic business targets were not met. He was luckily found by his bosses, when he was asked to tender his resignation, and the date on this letter was written by him, not his supervisor. Foul is the finger raised at others.

Negative leadership never gives feedback. It is given only when it is too late. By design and nature, giving feedback requires the accompanying positive trait of wanting to improve the colleagues(s). It requires identification of weakness and steps to take for plugging them. But to do this requires a positive streak, which is always lacking in the negatively oriented.

Unquantifiable pool of negative energy undoes - negativity, whether in personal life or professional stream never brings honour.

The writer is a freelance contributor



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