Before I started my first job after graduation in 2001, I combined the writing of my master thesis with an internship at a multinational in the Alps. It was the first time I was exposed to a corporate leader, who was the head of a team of experts serving the market organisations with macroeconomic, demographic and market data.
WHEN LACK OF INTEGRITY AND EMPATHY GO FULL COMMANDO
Don’t talk to me like that, young man, you address me with Sir Doctor!
Our team boss was a rude, dishonest, authoritarian commander who did not use his last year before retirement to leave a positive impression. The man brought a female colleague to tears when she informed him about her pregnancy to which he responded with silence followed by double-checking with her whether she was aware of his zero-tolerance of women returning after pregnancy. “I am…”, she replied, sobbing. Our boss had his desk in the space we shared, which was very convenient for him to lecture/punish/humiliate one team member at a time but reach all of the team. In my case, our agreement was breached and he obstructed me from carrying out the required research for my thesis. I am still not sure if it had to do with me not addressing him with his academic title the first time I was ordered to explain why I was ‘playing on the internet all the time’: “Sir, this is where all the data is, and it is much faster and chea…”. “Don’t talk to me like that, young man, you address me with Sir Doctor!”.
I thought it could only get better after this when it came to leadership. And fortunately, my next boss was a great, friendly, patient man, who let me try things out and gave me responsibility. We recently met for a beer and he has not changed, and according to him, neither have I.
Anyway, faith in humanity restored.
WHEN INTEGRITY ISSUES STAND IN THE WAY OF LUNCH WITH JENSON BUTTON
…until I moved to England and worked for a boss who made fun of me for having two master degrees on one occasion (“a bachelor degree is more than enough, who has a master degree nowadays?!”) and on another occasion compared my achievement of finishing the Jungfrau Marathon to a 10k team run for breast cancer she participated in (“I didn’t have muscles aches then, so what are you complaining about, pussy.”)
She also did not let me partake in a private lunch with Jenson Button at the BAR Honda F1 Factory. He finished 3rd in F1 that year and our supplier of CAD systems who I worked with invited me to meet Jenson Button for lunch. My boss told me that it would look like a bribe and any future contractual issues would be linked to me having lunch with an F1 star. Although I am an avid F1 fan, I fully understood her point and I kindly declined the lunch invitation.
Source: BBC (2004)
A week later, my boss came into the office, all tanned by the sun. I asked her how her weekend was and she said that it was great spending 3 days on the yacht of one of our company’s clients. Initially, I felt pissed off that I did not get to meet Jenson Button, whereas my boss jumped on a yacht to the Isle of Wight disregarding the course in business ethics she gave me, but then I quickly concluded that she was morally wrong and I was morally right.
I didn’t have muscles aches then, so what are you complaining about, pussy
ebb aNd flow of leadership: collecting experience
I resigned a few months later as I could not stand her and the company culture anymore, and I found a job in Switzerland as a consultant. This resulted in a wonderful career path working with more leadership exposure than I could wish for.
Another 7 bosses followed in my corporate career before I decided to be my own boss and to make use of my leadership experience for other executives to gain from. Before I left the corporate world, I worked for and with great leaders, but also a few terrible heads and directors. I worked for leaders who inspired me and brought out the best in me while keeping my back. But I also slaved in toxi-city for opportunistic directors who were oblivious to the detrimental impact of their actions on others.
FROM EXPERIENCE TO PASSION AND PROFESSION
Leadership has always been my passion and in particular leadership behaviour, attitude and values. Over the last 5 years, I spent quite a lot of time understanding leadership from a behavioural and social science point of view to distilling the leadership that I want to develop in others, my coachees. My vast multi-cultural professional experience helped a lot, but also the many books, publications, research and anecdotes contributed to what I now consider universal leadership values, attitudes and behaviour.
I am sure that the situation we are all facing at the moment has made many of us more aware of the values. attitudes and behaviour we like and dislike. As leaders and followers, but mostly as human participants of society.
THE TRIPLE CROWN OF LEADERSHIP VALUES & ABILITY
How we define the values, attitudes and behaviours we like or dislike, depends on a simple filter we apply: how good or bad is something or someone? This is what we call a quality. When we filter something as bad, our defence systems come into play: we fight it, we flee from it, or we freeze. The prefrontal cortex and the amygdala in our brain are responsible for the interpretation and subsequent actions. Good leadership does not trigger our defence systems whereas bad leadership does.
When someone demonstrates good leadership over a long period and when words are congruent with actions, we classify someone as being real or true. Real is defined as existing in fact and not imaginary. True is defined as – especially of facts or statements – right and not wrong; correct. Authenticity is the quality we associate with this behaviour and its underlying attitude and values.
When circumstances moderately or drastically change and someone remains authentic as defined above, we consider someone as honest and having strong moral principles which this person refuses to change. Being honest is defined as telling the truth or being able to be trusted and not likely to steal, cheat, or lie.
Moral is defined as relating to the standards of good or bad behaviour, fairness, honesty, etc. that each person believes in, rather than to laws. Integrity is the quality we associate with this behaviour and the underlying attitude and values of this person.
When authenticity and integrity are lived by this person, the positive impact on others will only be stronger and guaranteed when they feel heard or noticed in a way that his person demonstrates the ability to share someone else’s feelings or experiences by imagining what it would be like to be in that person’s situation. This is ability what we call empathy.
OUR NEEDS HAVE CHANGED SINCE 1880: LEADERS SUPPORT, NOT COMMAND
In my opinion, authenticity, integrity and empathy are essential qualities and abilities of a modern leader. As we do not live in 1880 when the Industrial Revolution was happening and people were commanded to push a button the entire day for a bit of food and shelter, we expect to be supported by our leaders to help us get the most of ourselves for self-fulfilment and self-actualisation – the upper constituents of the Maslow pyramid.
Supportive leadership is only effective when the leader embodies and breathes authenticity, integrity and empathy. Without these qualities and abilities, you run the risk of losing your credibility, your team’s loyalty, and team membership. Not only as a leader.
Additionally, you also jeopardise people speaking up, trust, team engagement, commitment, ownership and responsibility, which eventually negatively impacts performance and satisfaction levels. Creating team psychological safety plays a key role here too, as you can see in the next video:
what leaders cOULD do
See for yourself how you score from 1-5 on these 10 suggestions which are often addressed during my leadership development sessions with my coaching clients:
1. Do what you say, say what you do – and when you really can’t, explain honestly why, but don’t lie or cheat
2. Treat others how you want to be treated by your friends – the law of reciprocity
3. Be mindful of non-work related issues that may impact your team members’ state of mind
4. Be yourself and let your team members be themselves
5. Be aware of triggers that change your behaviour and neutralise or anticipate these triggers
6. Interact with your team members more than you think is necessary
7. Be an open book and do not neglect your human side on the work floor
8. Agree with your team what you stand for and when needed, write up a charter with the team’s values
9. Celebrate achievements, especially when these achievements are out of people’s comfort zones – either individual or team achievements
10. Define what you want to be remembered for as a leader towards your team – define your future legacy