Wise Leadership

Wise Leadership


“Klogt Lederskab” by Paul Otto Brunstad, 2009, 239 pages

KLIM publishing  (Danish language version)


In companies and organizations it is not uncommon to see that promotions or hiring for leadership roles are to a large part based on the person’s expert skills and contributions. So if we are an excellent expert contributor, we may find yourselves rewarded with a leadership position. However, what this process fails to recognize is that an expert contributor and a leader need different competencies. Excelling at one role does not mean that we automatically excel at the other role.

In order for a person to function well in a leadership role there will be some qualities and behaviours from the expert contributor role that will need to be “un-learned”. Just as there are some qualities and behaviours that need to be reinforced or learned.

Leadership Derailer – Power of Position

One of the most visible leadership derailers is overbearing pride in the leadership role, our power, skills and abilities. If we start to care more about our image, status and power than about the organization and the people we have been tasked with leading, we are derailing our leadership. If we think that our knowledge in conjunction with a leadership position will automatically gain the following of employees or indeed the ear of higher-up management, we are probably very much mistaken.

We cannot command influence and we cannot command following by reference to our knowledge, position title or power to reward and punish. The most this will get us is the compliance of other people. Compliance does not a leader make. Compliance means that people will do what we say, but not feel motivation or loyalty. What is more, we are very unlikely to get feedback or input for new initiatives from our people. We create an organization of compliant cogs in wheels. In the 4th wave revolution, employing such old school management, industrial age leadership methods will see us left behind.

Leadership Derailer – Building a B-team

It is not unheard of that pride in position, skills and power is paired with need to make sure that other people cannot be perceived as rivals to us. Instead of bettering ourselves and our company, we make sure that the people we surround ourselves with are non-threats to our position. Further, we may even take steps to ensure that any initiatives toward development of people are suitably stunted. Hire B players and make sure they stay B players. Take down any person with A player potential. Make sure that attention and credit go to us and not to other people. The manifestations of this leadership derailer are many and some more subtle than others.

What we in fact are doing is weakening our leadership and our company. We will never grow, if we do not allow ourselves to be challenged by people better than us. Our company will not stay on the competitive edge, if people are not allowed to grow their talents and potential. We make the company a source primarily for feeding ego not for delivering the most outstanding products and services.

Leadership Derailer – Entitlement

What may also happen, especially if it is supported by the culture of the company or organization, is a growing feeling of entitlement. In a leadership position we may feel we no longer need to attend to the more mundane tasks of everyday worklife. We may feel that we are entitled to (significantly) more and better than other people in the organization.

How does that make us appear to those we would have be our followers? Does it foster the perception that we are in this together, sink or swim? Or does it rather foster the perception of leaders as a separate group of people disproportionately rewarded. In which scenario do we generate more motivation and gain more genuine followers?

Leadership Booster – Direction and Representation

Before we get too gloomy about the pitfalls of leadership positions, there are many positive and productive qualities and skills that will generate genuine followers and a dynamic company and organization.

One of the main tasks of a leader is to be the boundary post towards the outside world, but also between departments and groups within the organization. This implies acting on behalf of the organization and its employees to manage demands for action, change and opportunities coming from the external environment. It also means ensuring that the internal setup is clear, well-structured and accepted by employees and that potential conflicts are handled before they escalate and cause loss of performance. The leader is the representative of the organization and the employees and not of own interests. The leader helps create direction and helps remove obstacles for their followers.

Leadership Booster – Building an A-team

One of the key elements of good leadership is the realization that we are not supposed to know and excel at everything. What we do need to excel at is getting the right people onboard and empowering these people to act and deliver. In other words, we need to find the A-players for the context in which we find ourselves. And we need to find the people with A-Player potential and help these people grow to their full potential. Empowered A-players will drive themselves, drive the initiatives, drive the organization and drive us as leaders towards getting better and accomplishing the right things.

Only by having the most fully developed talents in our organizations can we hope to keep up with the ever changing demands of customers and external events. Only by using all available talent to its fullest can we grow as leaders and expand the options available to the organization.

Leadership Booster – Having Integrity

Transparency, involvement in decision-making and walking the talk are all part of acting with integrity. If we want to have followers, we need to generate trust among them and we need to display trust in them. We need to embody equal handedness – both in terms of how we treat others but also in terms of how we behave ourselves in our leadership position.

Treating others fairly and in a predictable manner is key to us winning the trust of others. When others know who we are, what we value and how we are likely to respond to different situations, it becomes easier for others to interact with us. It will feel safer and people will be more willing to open up and share their views and ideas when they know that we do well by them and their input.

For ourselves, we must revisit any notions of entitlement and ask ourselves, how it will be perceived by others, be they external stakeholders or employees and colleagues. How wide is the gap between what we allow ourselves and what is allowed for other people in the organization. In some organizations a wider gap is expected and accepted. However, in many organizations an approach closer to the maxim “primus inter pares” is a better road to travel. First among equals means that we are the leader and will remove obstacles, take blows and protect the people and the organization and will in all likelihood receive a remuneration that reflects those responsibilities. It also means that we are no different than the people in the organization and are not treated differently or better than them.


When taking on a leadership position many of us come from an expert contributor background. The leadership role demands attention to a host of other qualities and skills than the typical export contributor role does. Therefore, it is well to take an inventory of how we view the leadership role and ourselves in that role. Thus we may be able to adjust our conduct so as to avoid some of the pitfalls that will cost us trust and genuine followers and instead focus on conduct that boosts our leadership presence.

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