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What makes a great leader?
Why are some leaders great in their time but their accomplishments are not replicable at other times?
Why are some leaders seen as failures at one stage of their careers but hailed as role models of thought and behaviour at other stages of their careers?
How do the personal values of leaders influence their decisions and the strategies they select to gain positions of leadership - and how does this affect their policies once in position as leader?
These are the types of questions easily answered with an awareness of the type of research conducted here at CDSM Ltd. The answers have been and are being applied in a range of organizations world-wide.
Political leadership in a democratic society is often left out of management literature, which can lead some commentators to believe that this type of leadership is fundamentally different than leadership in commercial organizations, charitable organizations or NGOs. When examined from a human and social values perspective, however, the differences are seen to be minimal - and often so similar that lessons learned in one sphere of activity can be applied in other situations.
In terms of basic Maslow Group orientations – based on over 40 years of research in the UK and closely associated with other bodies of work in various countries over the last 50 years – it is clear that leadership success is a function of time, place and values. In other words a leader is a function of the cultural values in which they live and work, the values-driven behaviours expected of leaders - and the personal values they possess to deliver value, for example success as defined by the culture and organizations/movements they lead.
Leadership success is a function of time, place and values.
In democratic political elections – at party level, or in competition with other parties – the role of the electorate is important in leadership selection and in continuing support for the behaviours of leaders once in position.
For example, in a Settler-driven national culture or a Settler-dominated organizational culture, a new leader who maintains continuity with the policies and behaviours of the previous leader is likely to be perceived as a great leader. Monarchies are Settler constructs and are mainly found in Settler cultures, so saying “The King is dead! Long live the King!” makes perfect sense. A phrase like ‘a safe pair of hands’ is high praise for the Settler leader. The Settler electorate do not like change as much as they value continuity and conformity to established standards. To them an inspiring leader is one who connects the current reality to the past.
In national cultures that are experiencing low rates of change or have older populations – a less and less prevalent state of affairs in today’s 24/7 globalized culture – leaders like these can be true representatives of the values of their countries. But as research has revealed, the support of Settlers in today’s world is often either taken for granted and manipulated through fear of change, or is disregarded by leaders with different values sets. As previous recent papers on this site have shown, political parties in the UK have leveraged, or disregarded, the Settlers within their parties and in the country at large - and the different parties have developed different versions of what ‘inspiration’ and ‘leadership’ should look, feel and sound like.
In countries that are more Prospector-driven than Settler-driven (the majority of all economically developed and developing nations) the nature of a great leader – at national or organizational level – will be radically different and, in many aspects, in opposition to the Settler definition.
Instead of compliance with established standards, the Prospector leader will seek to demonstrate that their own values-driven abilities exceed expectations. Leading is often not enough: they want to control others from that position of leadership. By inclination Prospector leaders see competition as healthy and strive to dominate situations in which they find themselves. Succeeding in getting their way is the standard to which they hold themselves.
Compromise may be the best solution for other values sets but it is strictly second best for the Prospector leader. Many Prospector followers/supporters of the Prospector leader will question any leader if they see them achieving compromise agreements instead of outright victories in negotiations. Competence in a world of continuous confrontation and short term gain trumps compromise and sustainable solutions. A perfect example is the Westminster parliament’s Prime Minister’s Questions. Some other values sets would see this as winning multiple battles but eventually losing the war.
In political terms, Prospector supporters want their leaders to ‘be winners’ - to demonstrate dominion over other candidates or parties. The strong man or woman is portrayed as a great leader and inspires the passions of the Prospector. This is, in principle, what the Setters are looking for too - but for very different reasons.
Political commentators love this type of leader as they are so easy to write and talk about. The Prospector leader will make sure there is plenty of publicity about each battle and will celebrate every victory in the continuous battle with opposing thoughts and desires. ‘Politics as theatre’ it has been called in the past, in a time of daily or weekly media. In today’s second by second, minute by minute world of Twitter and social media it is politics as entertainment – ‘YouTube’ politics if you will.
This is not to denigrate the relevance or importance of the Prospector values set in politics. The purpose of this analysis is point to out the differences between the politics of the Settlers and the politics of the Prospectors. Whether one is more desirable than the other is a function of your own values set. Awareness of your own values set is as important in analysis as the awareness of others’ values sets.
Both of these values sets have provided the world with leaders and are continuing to define the body politic – and the organizational culture – in the vast majority of countries around the world. This is not surprising as CDSM research clearly shows the Prospector skews in every country measured since 2012.
But … the last Maslow Group and leadership are not strangers to each other. In fact many of the enduring leaders through history have provided evidence of being Pioneer-driven. Their vision is of worlds not yet created; their aspirations are for societies and relationships between people not yet accepted by many of their followers; and their inspiring behaviours and messages endure, even though their reigns may have been short. Indeed, some Pioneer leaders have been unable to fulfil their promise before being punished for their thoughts by opposing and incumbent leaders with other values systems.
These leaders inspire their supporters not with demonstrated competence in maintaining the status quo (Settler) or exceeding the status quo (Prospector) but by challenging the status quo. They take what is given and ask, “if we examined our values and started from scratch is this the system (national or organizational) that we would want?”
In their challenging, they are likely to upset a lot of people with different values sets. Settlers might think that trying fix something ‘that isn’t broke’ is a complete waste of time. Prospectors might see this as a challenge to their authority or to accepted ways of being or doing, personally and organisationally. Pointing out that the ‘Emperor has no clothes’ may not be the primrose path to unchallenged change.
The dynamics of values change makes it easy to understand that Pioneers who become leaders have been Settlers and Prospectors at some time in their lives. They are just more complex at this stage in their life – not better or worse than Settlers or Prospectors. Depending on their awareness of their complexity - many Pioneers don’t have this awareness; it isn’t taught in schools – they can become a part of the changes that naturally evolve in cultures and organizations, or they can be banished to positions ring-fenced away from the mainstream by those with different values sets.
They are the people who are often labelled ‘troublemakers’ or, as in a paper written several years ago on this site, ‘difficult people’. Their careers may not be characterised by a steady rise to the top of organizational and political structures. Some will have been sent to prison, some relegated to non-influential positions in organization, before inspiring others through their ideas and approaches to life. A recent study of 100 self-made billionaires (their fortunes not gained through pre-existing wealth) revealed personal characteristics in line with Pioneer values – and 25% of them had been fired from previous jobs.
Being in the wrong place at the wrong time is the burden that many Pioneers (35% of the British population, 50% of the US population and only 13.2% of the Chinese population) carry throughout their lives. As times change and new conditions emerge they may or may not be the right person in the right place at the right time – but they will have a following that will be supporting them in questioning all aspects of the status quo.
When societies and organizations are soul searching, this values-based orientation is the most relevant and operationally suited place to begin. It is not necessarily the best in other conditions and it should not be inferred that it is the best in all circumstances – but it is the most appropriate in the right conditions.