Lessons On Leadership From The Three Caballeros

I am finally beginning my work on a new course for next year. Entrepreneurial Leadership within an Urban Context will be a great course. I have chosen a couple of books and will be adding to the required reading list over the next couple of weeks. Leadership has been on my mind over the last couple of weeks. I am constantly looking for good and bad examples of leadership to demonstrate to my students what the results of good or bad leadership are and how these results are correlated to specific actions.

There are several specific topics under the heading of leadership that I find especially interesting. Contingency Leadership Theories, such as Path-Goal, STL, and Fiedler LPC, have a solid foundation in research. Leadership theorists are looking for the right formula to create or recognize good leaders.

The fact is most organizations are not well led. If we focus on management, we know that 82% of managers really do a poor job; this number coming from a Gallop poll. Company after company provides training for their leaders to improve their performance, but the numbers don’t indicate improvements? At least that is how it appears.

One of my favorite leadership theories is the LMX theory. The Leader-Member Exchange Theory describes a dyad that occurs between the leader and follower. The interesting part of this theory involve the intricacies of the Leader-Member Exchange as it occurs with several individuals as they interact with the leader. The result of the exchange is an in-group and/or an out-group. Because the leader likes to interact with certain types of people, which is normal, these folks will end up feeling connected to the leader and subsequently will be more engaged. This in turn will lead to more assignments and opportunities for success. This creates an in-group. The others, who the leader does not personally connect with for various reasons, are usually treated formally and professionally, are less engaged and therefore may end up being a bit more deviant in their organizational citizenship.

The leader needs to be careful with how they act because this in-group out-group dynamic can be devastating to the organization. If the out-group sours, a contagion can occur creating a negative work environment that will affect productivity. And if the leader decides to punish the out-group for their deviant behavior, out-group behavior will degenerate becoming even more passive aggressive. The members will see the leader’s behavior as retaliation.

Leaders sometimes just don’t get it though. They think their behavior is above reproach, and they think their reasons are hidden from their followers. These leaders think the members are stupid. My experience is the opposite. Members are smart and can see the motivation behind the leader’s actions. Let me give you an example right out of today’s paper.

I am a pretty conservative guy. I like small government, but I hate cronyism. Therefore, I really dislike the M&M Benton partnership in Clark County. Lou Brancaccio is an editorialist for the Columbian, our local newspaper, he does not like the M&M boys, and I would say he is on the left side of the political spectrum. So for me to say that I think he has the M&M Benton boy’s number is a big deal. The latest involves a new tax that Benton wants to push through.

I have to admit, when I read about this new tax in the paper earlier this week I immediately thought retaliation; Benton retaliating against the Columbian because of its continual attack on the M&M boys and Benton himself. Brancaccio is now calling these three the caballeros. The three caballeros is a great name for these men.

Lou said this, “So, what’s the latest goofball stuff they’ve been up to? Well, Benton – as the environmental services director – wants to design a new tax to help pay a huge fine the county owes for its earlier stupid stuff.” Benton wants to tax paper waste, but he has designed the tax in a way where it hits newspapers, and specifically the Columbian.

Eric Stahl, a first amendment lawyer, stated “Taxation that singles out the press is problematic under the First Amendment. When a tax targets a particular newspaper, or is imposed in retaliation for its viewpoints, its plainly unconstitutional.” I can see a paper tax that is charged to fast food restaurants because of the possible littering problem, but charging a newspaper a tax because of its litter affect, at least in this case, seems suspicious.

I have never been to a County Commissioner meeting, but I intend to go. I want to see if Lou is telling the truth. Lou stated, “If you ever go to one of these meetings, you’ll figure out quickly that the M&M boys pretend they’re listening to you. But they’re really only waiting to open their pie holes again to tell you you’re wrong.”

Madore is supposedly this great businessman who runs a good company. I don’t doubt that one bit. Mielke has been a commissioner for a while now. Benton has had mixed reviews as a state senator. But these three caballeros are an excellent example of how leaders can create in-groups and out-groups if they are not careful. The fact that these three show no remorse for their actions, demonstrates the escalation of commitment error that managers with very large hubris experience.

The three caballeros think this will go away after time. But poor leadership will continue, with even dumber decisions, and the contagion will continue to grow. That is unless there is a change in direction. So, students of leadership, this is not what you want to do. Politics aside, there are good leadership practices and there are poor ones. Learn a lesson from the three caballeros.

And that is my thought for the day!


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