I am often asked to speak to groups of middle and senior managers about leadership. When I meet these groups I usually start out by asking them to think about all the bosses they have ever had and raise their hands if they think their bosses have been satisfactory or if they have been less than satisfactory. This is certainly not a scientific study but after having done this a few hundred times I have drawn some conclusions.
Most groups have about 2/3 who feel that their bosses have on the whole not lived up to expectations. Occasionally, I will meet a group where about 2/3 feel their bosses have been satisfactory but this is an exception. Nonetheless at least 1/3 (and maybe as much as 2/3) of all managers do not meet their employee’s expectations (this is corraborated in a number of more reliable surveys that mine). This alone represents a significant problem for organizations. You won’t find many CEO’s or HR VPs saying that 30% or 50% of their managers are not good leaders and yet the truth seems to be just that!
But what if the problem wasn’t with our managers but rather with our employees? What if we as employees have the wrong expectations of our leaders? Could that at least be a partial explanation for our dissatisfaction with our superiors? We often have higher expectations of our leaders than we do of ourselves or our colleagues and some of these expectations might be justifiable. The reality is, however, that managers are just normal people whose job it is to manage and like everyone else they have strengths and weaknesses. Managers exhibit the same moral behaviour as everyone else. They have the same intellectual, physical and emotional competence as the rest of the human race. They get divorced, fall ill and make mistakes in judgement like the rest of us.
In a many cultures there is an underlying expectation that the boss is smarter, works harder and has higher ethical standards than her employees. Intellectually we all know this is not true but emotionally we still expect our superiors to be superhuman.
If one of my neighbours had an affair with a younger woman I might feel sorry for his wife and family but I probably wouldn’t spend a great deal of time thinking about it. But if someone with a high position of leadership did the same thing I might be very concerned. When Bill Clinton was unfaithful it was one of the hottest news items in the world. I live in Sweden and I remember people sitting around with coffee cups in hand involved in dynamic discussions about this. Why would Swedes even care about the sexual habits of a leader of another country? Whatever the reason the reality is that they do care and a big part of the explanation is that we expect our leaders to be better at walking the talk than we are!