In modern business and government, leaders are expected to behave in a peculiar way. Success depends on adopting the model of warfare. To describe someone as tough, ruthless, a winner in the battle for supremacy - these are compliments. We've become used to toughness as a desirable attribute for success. What's peculiar about this is that the same warriors, if they are normal people, don't apply the war model to their personal life. "I love you, Daddy, because you're so ruthless with me" isn't something a young child would say.
I realize that there are successful people - traditionally men - who exude toughness in every aspect of their lives. But the real question is whether toughness actually produces success or whether the war model is actually ineffective. Do you have to make yourself tough if you want to be a leader? Each of us has natural tendencies that we can build upon or avoid - the choice is ours.
Here are the positives and negatives of a tough leadership style, which are well worth considering in your own career path.
Toughness provides sharp focus.
You quickly know who is an ally and who is an enemy/rival.
You can use intimidation as a competitive tactic.
If people fear you, they will respect you.
Weaker people will submit to your will.
Time isn't wasted making friends - what counts are results.
You will be labeled a winner in the eyes of other warrior types.
You won't have a guilty conscience about hurting others - this is war, after all.
Other warriors will gun for you.
Loyalty based on intimidation can't be trusted.
Setbacks will be labeled as defeats.
Tough minds are generally closed minds.
Constant vigilance is called for, since everyone is a potential enemy.
The lack of friends eliminates the possibility for personal connections.
Tough leadership generally thrives only in an atmosphere of crisis.
There's a long tradition of ignoring the downside of toughness and overvaluing the upside. Notoriously tough generals like Patton were not as effective in WW II as a conciliator like Eisenhower, for example. The attitude of "you're either for me or against me" that is the code of tough leaders is quickly interpreted by others as "This is all about me," and that is the opposite of how good leadership works. Good leadership is about fulfilling the needs of those you manage and oversee.
The bottom line, however, is whether you view life - and business, which is part of life - as a battle. Many people do. They deeply believe that success requires constant struggle against the odds. There is little joy in such a worldview; at its worst, it is soul-killing. As you consider what kind of leader to become, it's valuable to know that there are workable alternatives to toughness - not the opposite, which is to be soft. An entirely different model takes you out of the hard-soft, tough-weak scheme.
The model I have in mind breaks needs down into a hierarchy, where the leader examines the kind of need the situation presents and then adapts the tactics that fit that need. There are seven basic needs a leader must confront.
1. Safety and security. When people don't feel safe, your tactic should focus of reassurance, providing security, pushing back against threats, and bringing a dangerous crisis to a safe conclusion.
2. Achievement and accomplishment. When people crave material success, your tactic should focus on rewards for good work, effective competition, and providing an avenue to personal success.
3. Community and cooperation. When success depends upon a group effort, your tactic should focus on loyalty, forming alliances, establishing esprit de corps, and creating a work atmosphere where every member can make a contribution.
4. Being understood and valued. When people are being asked to push to the limit, your tactic should focus on appreciation, bonding at the personal level, showing that you care ,understand, and listen.
5. Creativity and discovery. When a situation calls for creative breakthroughs, your tactic should focus on giving everyone free time and an open space, tearing down barriers between workers and managers, and opening the door to many viewpoints and approaches.
6. Inspiration and values. When people need to feel inspired by the challenges that lie ahead, you can't adopt a tactic. Inspiration comes by living the values you preach, making yourself a beacon of light for others to admire and follow.
7. Higher purpose and enlightenment. Finally, there is the deep need to feel an allegiance to God or a spiritual goal that will bring fulfillment to the soul. You can't plan in advance to fill this need. If you are called on, there will be a transformation within yourself.
In this model of leadership, toughness is only one of many qualities that a leader must possess. No one can expect to be a universal leader; situations change, and when they do, specific leaders rise to meet the challenge. But you will hold an enormous advantage if you have seen the whole landscape. Life is unpredictable, and chaining yourself to toughness as your only response is a narrow strategy, one that may succeed in a crisis while failing miserably in many other areas.