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What can you learn from the toughest leadership job on Earth?

Stashed in: Leadership!, Attitude, Decisions, Dilbert, Listen!, Management, @bakadesuyo, Awesome

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Research has been done on the subject — and the tough guy stuff isn’t effective in the workplace:

What worked? Being democratic and listening.

In the harshest conditions you need the softest touch.

The best leaders look to the group for answers:

Crew members didn’t expect a leader to be a superman who had all the answers — in fact, that was a bad sign.

When there was a technical problem they wanted the expert in that area to make the decision.

They wanted policy decisions to be made by the leader — but only after input from the group.

And the only time they really wanted a take-charge, decisive dictator was in times of crisis.

The autocratic, military style doesn’t work in the modern office either:

What’s most people’s biggest problem in the workplace? Hands down — their boss.

Via Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths And Total Nonsense: Profiting From Evidence-Based Management

Researchers have been studying organizational climate for more than 50 years and routinely find “that 60% to 75% of the employees in any organization — no matter when or where the survey was completed and no matter what occupational group was involved — report that the worst or most stressful aspect of their job is their immediate supervisor.”

So even the toughest guys know that being tough isn’t always what gets results.

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I'm always amused by the idea of modern leadership and the advice that wafts around it because my grandfather was born in 1858 and my dad in 1910, so I contemplate a different arc of human leadership under adversity and what toughness means.

We live in much different environments today, regarding people's capacity to deal even with minor inconveniences and response to authority, or have any natural ability to exert it.  And so I agree with the above that for today's large organizations and highly skilled teams it makes sense for would-be leaders to listen and be more democratic.  But that's NOT because it's good leadership, it's because of the structure of our current work environments and what will work best in those prevailing cultures.

I don't think we can find the above lessons as suggested, either from Antarctic isolationism or any similar research, as the definition of "toughness" and then apply such anachronisms whole hog in today's organizational management under less stressful environments, or especially in work places where people retain an effete culture of bitching around the water cooler and car pooling home everyday: Antarctica is just not the same operating environment, personnel structure, daily risks or expected payoffs as is today's modern company or startup.

Let's just consider Ernest Shackleton's incredible success to immediately realize what real leadership is and we can discover more about toughness and operational authoritative control that works better than any democratic or soft listening skills purported to work in such "toughest" environments...


...especially once you start reading the journals and accounts and looking at the evidence about what that toughness is...


So tough environments do matter, as well as the type of people one recruits to do something in them, regarding the type of leadership skills that work in them.  And those toughness elements abided by Shackleton and his men sort of blows the whole researched modern day Antarctic lesson of the ice station listening style and the "jolly well let's all get along and have a vote on it" administration style right out of the water--by orders of magnitude.  

But then really, what modern organization can we actually suggest has it tough today?  What would-be leader today could ever claim to even being worthy enough of carrying Shackleton's bags regarding any decisions they had to make and consequences weighed by risks they had to contend with day in and day out...?  Toughness is as toughness does...  


For chrissakes, most organizational leaders idea of toughness today is arbitrating whether or not one team gets to stock the lunch room with almond milk or organic dairy creamer... or maybe who gets to move into the office with the window... and in that case, sure, then just listen and let them vote on it and go pet those sulkers that lose out.

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