The Unkind Leader

Where does it say that to be a leader you need to be an awful person?

Leadership books are published all the time, and they purport to instruct current or future executives on the best way to get people to control their destiny and learn the art of war or never give in.

Few of them talk about the necessity for actually working well with others.

Do business leaders really believe that because they might have ideas that are worthwhile that no one else is worthy of courtesy?

An article about the departure of Steven Sinofsky, the head of Windows, from Microsoft, asks the question about “a quandary that chief executives sometimes face: when do the costs of keeping brilliant leaders who cannot seem to get along with others outweigh the benefits?”

My question is, is a leader brilliant if he cannot get along with others?  Sinofsky was seen as being smart, but abrasive. But in an age such as ours, consensus is more important than ego-maniacal behavior.

Part of why you as a writer or author are building a platform is to get along with others, to engage with others in the ideas that will help spur your audience to react in a positive way to your message. Just because you’re smart doesn’t mean you have to be unpleasant. I know, this isn’t one of those Facebook memes that go around about kindness and such – but courtesy, respect and the acknowledgement that others have something to contribute.

You may think you’re the smartest person in the room, but if you also think that you’re the only one who can do something, or that nothing would be done without you, then you’re actually not all that smart. You’re delusional.

The other day I saw part of an episode of the hit television series Revolution, in which the leader of a militant group, hearing from one of his soldiers that this person couldn’t find an escapee, takes the news by killing the messenger outright. That’s not exactly the best way for a “leader” to build camaraderie and instill trust. Yet some people feel that to be a leader means such behavior. Cruelty doesn’t make a leader. Cruelty marks a rebel who’ll soon fight without allies.  And lose.

Creativity in any sphere, including business, involves interaction and conversation, bouncing ideas off other people, realizing where you come up short, or where you need to refine what you’re thinking. Sure, writers sit alone and put their thoughts into prose, but those thoughts alone need to have been generated by participating in society to a certain extent.

Bob Hughes
Author: Bob Hughes
Robert J. Hughes ("Bob") was a staff reporter for The Wall Street Journal for over a decade, specializing in culture reporting. He was the paper's theater reporter, wrote on publishing, the art and auction markets, television, music, film and philanthropy, and reviewed books.
  • Anonymous

    Great post, Bob. I’ve always subscribed to the “catch more flies with honey than vinegar” philosophy. Sure, being a leader requires that you have tough skin and making tough decisions, but that doesn’t mean you have to be heartless and brutal. Thanks for sharing.