Arrogance. Disrespectful. Cocky. Self-centred. Posturing...these words, and many others like them, are often associated with debutants in the business world, i.e. young people who have just been appointed into leadership and management positions. Such people have high qualifications and have just ascended into high positions with powers to lead and manage people less educated than them.
These descriptions of young leaders/managers rising fast up the corporate chain, apply to some extent to UBS trader Kweku Adoboli who nearly brought down the Swiss bank as he wagered up to $12-billion, cooked the books and lied to his bosses. The son of diplomats, Adoboli was educated at a British private school. He was elected head boy at the school, a sure sign of his nascent talent and leadership skills. After completing high school Adoboli attended Nottingham University where he graduated with a degree in computer science and management. It was in part the self-assurance of youth that drove the 32-year old in his daring acts of bravado so as to increase his bonus and boost his ego. Once he made a mistake, he did not immediately correct it. Rather, he sought to cover it up, hoping or believing that in due course he would have made up for the losses he made.
Effective leadership in young leaders and managers is especially relevant to a young nation such as South Africa. The opportunities open to young South Africans today differ significantly from their elders. The work environment is changing more rapidly on a regular basis. The demands of the workplace often require technological savvy people, who are educated and posses the right skills set. As a result, management positions are frequently occupied by younger people who may have the right skills, but lack the maturity and experience to lead in highly demanding positions. In such cases, meteoric rises to the top are not always complemented by attitudes that encourage good leadership and effective management.
Certain attitudes can have dire consequences for business, as in the experience of UBS, which nearly had to close down. Over the last few years, managers in the banking industry in particular, have been charged with egotism and arrogance – as with Bob Diamond formerly of Barclays Bank. Initially, managers may be good team players and people-oriented, but as they rise up the corporate ladder, there is the possibility that this behaviour changes for the worse. Daniel Koh, psychologist at the Insights Mind Centre is quoted saying: “When someone is at the top and has power, they believe that no one else can do their job. They have the self-assurance that nobody can touch them, control them or check them. Instead of being people-oriented, numbers, profits and personal gain become the only focus.” Founder and executive coach at NeXT Corporate Coaching Services, Paul Heng comments that ‘success can inflate one’s ego, which can lead to a false belief of infallibility. Generous executive compensation doesn’t help either.”
It is easy to buy into the ‘hype’ that is created with young successful managers. At first people they are surrounded by may be eager to please these young geniuses, or even feel lucky to be surrounded by them. However, what they may have in youthful brashness, eventually may not be sufficient to create team spirit and a staff complement that is confident about their leader but also confident in their ability to do the work. It is more important to build affinity and positive relationships with subordinates if the goal is to lead and manage effectively. Koh and Heng suggest the following to encourage a positive environment in the workplace:
1. Self awareness
Heng says: “Sometimes people know they are headed towards a dangerous direction, but they don’t have the self-control and/or discipline to pause and choose another path.” Being mindful and conducting regular self-examinations can help.
2. Get perspective (from others)
It can be hard to keep yourself in check. That’s when speaking to a coach, a loved one, a trusted colleague or friend can help curb bad behaviour, adds Heng.
3. Know your people
Koh reckons staying people-oriented towards staff and clients can help senior bankers stay grounded. “This helps them know what is happening, which will hopefully help with decision making.”
4. Don’t be a jerk
Stay professional, not personal, when interacting with staff. “Engagement should be done at both the individual and group level, so that there is understanding from both sides,” says Koh.
Don’t morph into a different (and ruder) person either. Heng says: “Communication styles should not change drastically. Just because you’ve helped your firm earn an additional billion dollars, doesn’t entitle you to put your legs up on the table when speaking to others.”
5. People who dispute your ideas aren’t evil
Koh says bosses should seek to understand why their employees are challenging them, so that the issue can be appropriately dealt with. “Avoid using authority and power; one has to remember that you do need support in this completive environment.” Heng adds: “If the challenges are positively motivated, they should be welcomed with open arms.”
Lastly, remember this: CEOs and leaders are symbolic of what an organisation stands for. “We now have a perception, rightly or wrongly, of what Barclays is all about via Diamond’s recent behaviour, ditto for other firms. In the worst-case scenario a bad leader could cause the entire organisation to disappear from the face of the earth,” says Heng.