Many years ago I published an article on seduction as leadership competency. I argued and presented some evidence that, everything being equal, leaders who use “seduction” have greater prospects for advancement than those who do not. I defined seduction as the “promise of something more…”. the willingness to not limit oneself to the facts but to embellish or stretch the truth a little bit. I also described two main seduction strategies: partial concealment and self-aggrandizement.
I continued over the years to observe how leaders at various levels behave and communicate, with a keen eye on their use of seduction techniques. Today, I am taking a moment to confirm that my observations still hold. What prompted me to pause and revisit my thinking was a presentation I attended recently on how to speak as a leader. The session was replete with well-known, common sense 101 communication principles. However, the underlying tone was that leaders should be always in charge, always commanding, always positive and always above others. According to the presentation, leaders should never apologize for being late, or say anything that could compromise their “superior” status.
I tried to fit this within some positive frame. I also revisited my notion of seduction as a leadership skill, to see if not acknowledging an imperfection (e.g., being late) may be an aspect of self-aggrandizement. My conclusion is that “leadershipspeak” is a perversion of positive framing. Despite decades of framing leadership as a conversation, the democratization of leadership and the acclaim of collaboration as a critical leadership skill, and despite billions spent on leadership development and training, today, we still have leaders and leadership development schools who believe that apologizing is not leadershipspeak.
This makes me sad but not discouraged. Not discouraged, because I know the extent to which this archetypal old model of leadership is ingrained in our psyche. I know how incongruent we are as leaders when we claim to want to collaborate yet continue to adopt a communication style that oozes superiority and control “over” rather than the “working with” stance so essential for collaboration.
Just as it pays to promote oneself as “green” (when the only thing “green” about a business is its logo), it looks good to praise collaboration even when an “I am the boss” attitude remains prevalent and taught to top leaders in business schools. To me, whatever communication style leaders adopt, basic decency should never be compromised.
Leaders interested in truly serving their organization through innovative ways of managing (such as greater collaboration) should be particularly mindful of beliefs that limit the potential of collaboration. For instance, an “I am the boss here” attitude hinders true collaboration. Those who design leadership training should create better alignment between the discourse on new leadership skills and leadership development curricula.
Seducing with words may work temporarily and empty positive slogans can impress some people sometimes.