Rabu, 19 Agustus 2009

In Extremis Leaders Share Risk with Their Followers

Another characteristic that sets in extremis leaders apart from other leaders is their willingness to share the same, or more, risk as their followers. This is, of course, partly true because they join their followers in challenging and dangerous circumstances. We found, however, such profound and consistent sharing of risk that it clearly stands out as a defining characteristic of in extremis leaders.

Leaders themselves expressed powerful feelings about shared risk; for example, consider the following comments made from a SWAT team leader and a tiger hunter:

If you put the plan together and you’re not comfortable being up there with a foot through the door, what the hell is up? (Special Agent James Gagliano, SWAT team leader, New York City Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation)

I assume twenty times the risk [of my team, although]... there is some equal risk in the field. Any of us could fall off the elephant, and any of us could be thrown from the jeep, and we did get injured, all of us, and hurt on a daily basis. There wasn’t anybody that didn’t come back bloodied or badly bruised or hurt. We have a seventy-pound tripod on top of an elephant, it sometimes got hinged against a tree and the tripod will fall... Every day we got hurt. So I went through like ten bottles of Advil, which I gave to my team to help them get through that. (Carole Amore, professional videographer, expedition leader, and author of Twenty Ways to Track a Tiger)

These interviews also made it clear that this shared risk was not merely a form of leader hubris, showboating, or simple impression management. Rather, it’s part of the in extremis leader’s style or technique. It profoundly affected the followers; followers recognized it, knew what it represented in the heart and character of their leader, and deeply respected their leader as a result. This phenomenon was acute on the battlefields of Iraq, as these American soldiers described the importance of their leaders’ sharing the risk the soldiers faced:

You have to learn confidence in your leaders and trust in their judgment. They are not going to throw you out into something that they wouldn’t put themselves in as well. (U.S. soldier, Third Infantry Division, Baghdad, Iraq)

I think that the only difference in their roles was that they got a little more information a little sooner than the rest of us. Other than that, they weren’t really that much different than anybody else... Other than seeing what was on the collar [their rank insignia], it’s hard to decipher who was who... The officers here, they showed leadership and they get out there and do the same things that me or him were doing. (U.S. soldier, Third Infantry Division, Baghdad, Iraq)

Conversely, soldiers who found their leaders unwilling to share the risk had little will, and lost motivation, as in the case of this captured Iraqi soldier:

The leader... was a lieutenant colonel. An older man, forty-five, forty-six, forty-eight years of age. He was a simple person, but the instruction come from the command in Baghdad. Like, "do this," but he doesn’t do that, and he ran away... He told us if you see the American or the British forces, do not resist. (Captured Iraqi soldier, Um Qasr, Iraq)

The common practice of providing business leaders with buyout plans, generous rollover contracts, or golden parachutes does little to inspire follower confidence. Certainly it puts business risk, compared to risk of life, in perspective. When performance means life or death, the best leaders don’t wear parachutes unless their followers do too.


  © Leadership in Focus Modified by LeaF 2009

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