Overcoming the Dark Side of LeadershipJanuary 22, 2008
In the Capella University course The Dark Side of Leadership, we were asked to reflect on the following:
Share ways that have proven helpful in your past experiences to mitigate personal dark leadership characteristics. Based on what you have learned in this course and your recent experiences, are there any further techniques that you can offer as best practices?
What has helped most to mitigate my own dark leadership characteristics is this: finding out about them! However, I cannot truthfully say that I agreed with what others had to offer when I asked for the feedback . . . at least not at first. As a college professor, I had always received feedback on my teaching from my students. And as a young and somewhat cocky professor, I would tend to discount anything that did not fit my idea of what I was “really like” as a professor. As years progressed, and I moved into corporate America as a training manager in a Fortune 500 company, I was able to (read: forced into) participate in the company’s 360-degree evaluation program. Perhaps getting a little older helped, or maybe there were other factors, but I started listening more closely to what others were saying my shortcomings were. (Some of these had to do with my leadership style, while others had to do with different competencies required of me in my role.)
Then – this is the good part – a few years ago, I took a battery of Hogan Assessments. One of these was the Hogan Development Survey (HDS), “an inventory of personality characteristics that can derail success in careers, relationships, and life” (Hogan Assessment Systems, 2006). There were about 150 statements for which I could chose only “agree” or “disagree,” no middle ground. For the first time, I was able to receive feedback on my leadership effectiveness and potential in a way that was based in research, not just opinions.
Of the eleven potential derailers (dark leadership behaviors) that are assessed on the scale, the one that had the highest score and was the biggest wake-up call for me was that I was “leisurely.” According to the HDS, someone who is leisurely may do the following (Hogan & Hogan, 2001):
- March to the sound of her own drummer
- Be confident about her skills and abilities
- Insist on working at her own pace
- Has good social skills
- Pretends to agree when really she doesn’t
- Will drag her feet when she disagrees, rather than being direct and letting others know
As I read my HDS report, I could think of specific examples of times when I did each of the leisurely items. I literally saw a lightbulb go on over my own head. I thought of how circumstances turned out when I was leisurely, and then imagined how they might have turned out differently if I had been more direct in my opinions. What I had thought was being thoughtful or politically correct was actually harming my career and my relationships.
From that point on, because I was aware of this leisurely tendency, I became more likely to say what I mean and mean what I say (to paraphrase the March Hare and Alice). To help keep me accountable, I shared my Hogan results with a trusted colleague at work and asked her to help with this tendency of mine.
Hogan Assessment Systems. (2006). Hogan Development Survey: Scales and interpretations Retrieved August 10, 2006, from http://www.hoganassessments.com/HDSScales.aspx.
Hogan, R., & Hogan, J. (2001). Assessing leadership: A view from the dark side. International Journal of Selection & Assessment, 9(1/2), 40.