Saturday 7 December 2013

Anti Hero as Leader

I was sent a link to this report about Anti-Heroes by Professor Gerry Docherty, formerly of Newcastle University (UK) and now of Griffith University in Australia.

Gerry in many ways exemplifies the style of leadership articulated in this report, which, I think, is why many of us value, respect and admire him.  I hope that his style and qualities are likewise recognised at his new University and that he flourishes there.

The thesis of the report - which is well worth reading in full - is that the new realities of the world require, in many roles, a new style of leadership, quite different from the types of leadership which have been effective in the past, and indeed remain effective, in some circumstances, in the present.

The traditional style of leadership is characterised as:
  • Clear thinking
  • Self-Confident
  • Expert
  • Charismatic
These are undoubted strengths in some situations, but such leaders are also prone to the following flaws:
  • Un-empathetic
  • Over-confident and opinionated
  • Inflexible 
  • In denial of uncertainty.
The Anti Hero, by contrast, is characterised by the following traits, which are typically less valued by organisations :
  • Empathy
  • Humility
  • Flexibility
  • Acknowledgement of uncertainty
  • Self-awareness.
These characteristics suggest that the Anti Hero is better at:
  • Adapting to new circumstances
  • Drawing upon all the relevant information
  • Building diverse relationships
  • Understanding other people
Anti Heroes also have their typical flaws, which include:
  • Complicated communications
  • Slower decision making
The report explores when each of these approaches might be of most use, and also has several case studies to put the flesh on the bones of this analysis.

It is more polemic and exploratory than academic in tone, so I would see it as a provocation to thought and reflection rather than an authoritative piece of research. But it resonates with both my prejudices and my experience, so I commend it to you on that basis.

Reflecting on all this in the light of the recent death of Nelson Mandela prompts some further thoughts.

Perhaps he was truly great because he combined characteristics of both types, without any seeming conflict or contradiction within himself.

For who could deny that he was clear-thinking, self-confident and charismatic? Yet he also demonstrated empathy, humility, flexibility and self-awareness to an extraordinary degree as well.  So perhaps the two types are not necessarily mutually exclusive. But I suspect such fusion is rare: which is why a leader of the stature of Mandela is also rare.

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