Management Magazine

First know yourself, then your team


Emotional fortitude is not about encouraging sycophants and busybodies whose main brief is to spy and report professionally gifted employees

Have you ever pondered that the environment you grew up in may have a profound effect on your people management skills and career success?  You may have an outstanding record of success having worked your way up through the ranks and targeted as a high-potential employee expected to go far and fast. Although you have been able to produce high-quality results as an individual contributor, you find yourself making mistakes as a leader.  You think you have all the answers and exclude others from decision-making and you fail to delegate, thereby becoming too involved in day-to-day routines.  Soon,  it dawns upon you that your skills that enabled you to accomplish so much at lower levels in the organisation are no longer sufficient to sustain your momentum as a leader.

Repetition compulsion

Take the example of a leader who grew up in a home with an alcoholic parent. They grow up knowing that survival depends on taking care of oneself as they find no mentor in the parent. In their initial career development, they learn to be independent and self-sufficient.  Later on however, if they become leaders, they might exhibit these traits by being autocratic, isolated and paranoid at the workplace. Paradoxically, the leader’s initial strengths ultimately cause him/her to fail. This personality problem is described by Dr Lois P. Frankel as repetition compulsion – the tendency of human beings to return to past states. Therefore, one must learn to overcome their initial childhood strengths through the development of complementary skills to remain successful over the long haul.        

Case-in Point

A real-life dilemma of this phenomenon is that of Margaret Thatcher who will always stand out as the most successful British Prime Minister in the way that she uplifted the economy of Britain. As Prime Minister of England, Thatcher had a clear vision of where she wanted to take her country and how that could be accomplished.  She was willing to take on tough and, at times controversial issues.  Her strengths earned her the nickname “the Iron Lady”. Early in her tenure as Prime Minister, she was welcomed by many citizens as one who stood by her convictions and who could lead the nation through a difficult period of social and economic decline.  She never faltered during the Falklands War.  

Why did she face a rebellion towards the end of her reign within her inner core of Cabinet Colleagues? Thatcher relied almost exclusively on behaviours learned early in childhood.  Her independent, self-sufficient behaviours required complimentary skills in consensus building and succeeding through co-operative efforts – skills that she never developed and, in fact, openly eschewed.  Shortly after her election in 1979, she proclaimed, “I am not a consensus politician.  I am a conviction politician”. When the going got tough, Thatcher got tougher. They turned up the volume of her convictions which ultimately failed her.

First know thyself

Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan in their book Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done,  put emphasis on the importance of the leader/manager being self-aware as a springboard for effective people management. Without emotional fortitude, one can’t deal honestly with business and organizational realities, or give people forthright assessments, neither can they tolerate the diversity of viewpoints, mental architectures and personal backgrounds that organisations need in their members in order to avoid becoming ingrown.”

Larry and Ram continue to expound on the importance of knowing oneself: “It takes emotional fortitude to objectively deal with conflict, and the confidence to encourage and accept challenges in group settings. This enables a person to accept and deal with their own weaknesses, to be firm with people who aren’t performing, and to handle the ambiguity inherent in a fast-moving, complex organisation”. Emotional fortitude therefore is not about encouraging sycophants and busybodies whose main brief is to spy and report professionally gifted employees.

Emotional fortitude

According to Larry and Ram “Emotional fortitude comes from self-discovery and self-mastery. It is the foundation of people skills. Good leaders learn their specific strengths and weaknesses, especially in dealing with other people, then build on the strengths and correct the weaknesses”.

Drawing from their experience working with organisations, Bossidy and Charan pinpoint four core qualities that make up emotional fortitude. The first one is authenticity which makes one real, not fake. A real person is one whose outer person reflects the inner self. Authenticity breeds trust because sooner or later people spot the fake. The second and third qualities are self-awareness and self-mastery. Self-awareness gives a person the capacity to learn from mistakes as well as successes. Self-mastery keeps one’s ego in check. The fourth and last quality is humility which makes people to listen and appreciate that they do not know everything.   

Frankel notes that “successful corporate players scope out the playing field and adjust their behaviour accordingly.  In other words, they remain in bounds for each given situation.  Bossidy and Charan state: “Leaders in contemporary organisations may be able to get away with emotional weakness for a brief time, but they can’t hide it for long. They face challenges to their emotional strength all the time!” Knowing yourself is really the foundation stone for effective people management.

Dr Francis Kalama Fondo is a member of KIM (MKIM), ICPAK and ICPSK.

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