Leaders should always favour the competence of their close collaborators over loyalty and accept the truth from them, even if it is sometimes difficult to hear, along with the communication of relevant information. Leaders must listen to the collective intelligence of those around them, put topics in perspective and value expert opinion and debate, particularly in a crisis management situation. Living in a bubble and practising nepotism may be reassuring, but have never made a company prosper or increased a country’s prestige.
Great leaders all have one thing in common: they possess a high degree of emotional intelligence, meaning that they have the ability to recognise, understand and control their own emotions while shaping those of others. In other words, they do not isolate themselves, they are able to put things in perspective and prioritise issues, they practice active listening and act accordingly. They do not retreat into an unreal, convenient or fantasy world, but strive to be constantly attuned to the reality of their challenges, colleagues and advisors. What characterises leaders is their internal “action logic”, as defined by David Rooke and William Torbert (Harvard Business Review, April 2005), who classify leaders into seven categories: opportunists, diplomats, experts, achievers, individualists, strategists and alchemists. The strategist and the alchemist, who represent a minority of leaders, are positive actors and the best able to manage change, define shared visions and operate in an iterative and constructive way. Endowed with high moral values, they are idealistic, pragmatic and able to manage numerous activities in parallel. Often charismatic, they have an exceptional ability to embrace the complexity of situations and an above-average capacity for analysis, self-assessment and assessment of others. Such leaders include Nelson Mandela, Barack Obama, Jacques Delors, Frank Maguire and Jack Welch. They favour a meritocracy and distrust courtiers and yes-men.
Great leaders all have one thing in common: they possess a high degree of emotional intelligence, meaning that they have the ability to recognise, understand and control their own emotions while shaping those of others.
When managing a crisis, a leader must show composure, common sense, moderation, analytical skills, agility, courage, critical-thinking and decision-making ability. Why? Because a crisis is particularly characterised by the acceleration and compression of time, the dramatisation of issues, the emergence of new actors and increased uncertainty.
A recent Financial Times article (“How Putin blundered into Ukraine – then doubled down”), published a year after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, shows how the Russian president – concerned above all with returning his country to the old backward-looking dream of the Tsarist Empire – relied above all on a limited entourage of loyal, complacent and ultra-nationalist advisors. He consulted little with competent and well-informed colleagues who questioned his reasoning. Yet, as clearly demonstrated by the sociologist Vilfredo Pareto, any dynamic society must encourage the circulation and renewal of its elite or else become paralysed and doomed to decadence. Obsession with secrecy and conspiracy, closed thinking, isolation of power, propaganda, victimisation through the mirror effect (blaming others for one’s own actions), and paranoia: these are the characteristics of the Kremlin leader with which Western leaders – primarily Joe Biden – must come to terms if peace talks are to be held in the not-too-distant future. Faced with a regime that has made lies and terror into state doctrine, this requires both firmness and determination and, above all, the will to rely on competence, professionalism and knowledge.
The effectiveness of responsible leadership is measured by the trials it faces, based on negotiation, compromise and peace, rather than chaos, destruction and war. We find ourselves once again at a pivotal moment in history, a “civilizational shock” to use the phrase of American professor Samuel Huntington (which dates from 1996!), and we must do everything we can to safeguard our universal values of freedom, democracy and the rule of law.
Did you enjoy reading why great leaders favour competence over loyalty? Then read “We are all leaders!” by Jérôme Koechlin next.