In times of crisis people look up in search of leadership, and in the looking up, they expect decisiveness, resolution and determination. People, who in normal circumstances have a more benign view of leadership, suddenly turn into advocates of dictatorship. ‘These are no times for inclusiveness and consensus, make a decision, give an answer, lead, be ruthless!’
Ruthlessness is certainly full of adrenaline and, may I say, testosterone. This is an example of ruthlessness form the old, now forgotten Bosnian war:
The journalist and the sniper
What do you see?
Two people crossing the road
Okay, which one do you want me to kill?
Pity, you could have saved one of them
(the trigger clicks twice)
Martin Bell, Bosnia, The Sunday Times, 22.12.96
I have kept this newspaper clip with me since.
And you may ask, what this ruthless assassination has to do with the surely more benign and non murderous ruthlessness that we want from leaders in particular times?
Good question. But the brain does not discriminate that well between the mechanisms of ruthless. Of course we are not shooting employees, and nobody drops dead on the corporate carpet. But, would it be foolish to ask if we are sometimes shooting psychologically, mentally? I have seen psychological assassinations many times in my business life so I am very sympathetic to some employees wearing bullet proof jackets in some particularly dangerous situations, for example, around those of the sniper-leader type.
I wrote an article a long time ago with the title ‘It’s the system, not me’. This is the worse sniper-leadership of all. ‘I am a good guy, but ‘they’ force me to inflict this upon you’.
No, any leader is free to choose to shoot or not. Ruthlessness is not determination. In crisis, and looking up, be careful what you are asking for, you might just get it.