Friday, May 27, 2016

Beyond Ambition

In his well-worn but not outdated book, Beyond Ambition: How Driven Managers Can Lead Better and Live Better, Robert Kaplan referred to expansive leaders as those who are vitally concerned with gaining mastery over their environment. These top leaders are highly motivated and usually ambitious, even driven, and many depend too much on success as a primary means of reinforcing their sense of self-worth.

His research at the Center for Creative Leadership showed that moderately expansive executives mobilize the organization to attain its objectives without weakening or destroying it in the process, but overly expansive executives focus too much on winning -- they're unnecessarily competitive, lacking in perspective, unrealistically ambitious for their organizations, often compulsive, controlling or even exploitative, too hungry for rewards, and resistant to criticism and change.

Managerial expertise and business knowledge matter, but the basic character of leaders powerfully affects the way they run an organization. Those who succeed are distinguished from those who derail not by absence of weakness, but by the ability to learn from their experience, including mistakes and failures.

When leaders seek a significant breakthrough in their effectiveness, there's much to be gained by looking beyond personality traits and behavior to the leader's character -- the set of deep-seated strategies used to enhance or protect one's sense of self-worth -- including basic driving forces. Such fundamental change, though difficult, is possible. Being coached to an inner character shift brings an attitude of relaxed concentration, where one is more highly effective, but at lower rpms.

Kaplan offered three prototypes, case studies that link to three Enneagram styles (he doesn't refer to the Enneagram in the book's text, but does include it in his list of references):
Striver-Builder (Chapter 2, "Bill Flechette"): No-nonsense attitude, gets things done, specializes in building organizations, plans for the future, drives toward implementation, strives for a world-class organization, competitive, drawn to be exceptional, interested in looking good (overly concerned about being the best/impressing higher-ups; subordinates sense their function is to meet Striver/Builder's objectives), articulate communicator (to the point of creating own reality), defensive, resists becoming aware of weaknesses/disputes feedback data (can't bear to admit feelings), self-deceptive, narcissistic.

Self-Vindicator Fix-It (Chapter 5, "Rich Bauer"): Authoritative and commanding, use of power stands out above all, physical presence radiates power, visceral need to rectify dysfunction, leads by attacking what's wrong, energizes "this isn't good enough" approach, specializes in turnarounds, gruff and direct, intimidating (with underlying warmth and good will), gets mad/gets over it quickly, doesn't support people enough, doesn't have soft touch, doesn't tutor/coach, judges people as either having it or not.

Perfectionist/Systematizer (Chapter 11, "Lee McKinney"): Devoted to principles, dedicated, hard-working, results-oriented, effective, loyal, adept at order/systems, durable under stress, over-manages, can't ever be pleased, difficulty discriminating between important/unimportant tasks, difficulty taking other points of view, needs to be right/beyond reproach, internalizes a host of shoulds, self-punishing and punishing of others.