To be the most effective kind of leader, one must possess emotional stability. Such stability can be measured only in how a person copes with anxiety or conflict and how he relates to or deals with others.
Every human being experiences tension, frustration, and conflicts with other people. If he does not, he is either psychotic or withdrawing from the mainstream of life. A mark of maturity is the ability to handle conflict. This includes the ability to deal with realities as to what can and cannot be changed. A mature executive said to me, “I have learned never to fret over something that I cannot change.” Such an approach to life is evidence of stability. The ability to make those necessary compromises with what cannot be changed largely determines whether one will be successful as a social being.
Anxiety is the key to personality development because it provides a test for the ego. There is a proverb: “the stronger the wind, the mightier the oak becomes.” The way a person deals with conflict does denote whether he is a strong, healthy, emotional person or one who develops neurotic symptoms. The way an individual thinks of himself and others greatly determines how he will face tension. If he has weak ago, he will continually rely on defense structures that sustain neuroticism and prevent emotional growth. This blocks and complicates communication with others and causes interpersonal relations to disintegrate.
A leader must be mindful that his emotional stability is indicated in the way he deals with people. Such characteristics as understanding, trust, confidence, tolerance, loyalty, and sympathy are the ingredients that disclose emotional maturity.
Immaturity also may be characterized in many ways. Leaders who evidence immaturity usually fail. It manifests itself in people through their involvement with others in some of the following ways:
1. They have little tact in getting along with people
2. They interfere in other’s affairs
3. They constantly resist change because of their underlying insecurities
4. They blame others when things go wrong
5. They are not able to develop in their organization a solid esprit de corps because it is difficult for them to be a part of a team
6. They cannot handle criticism and differences in others
7. They are overly critical of other people and their methods of doing things
8. They cannot cut through trivia and help a group reach the major goals and objectives
Strangely enough, one of the challenges followers often face is helping leaders develop tolerance, decency, and in a sense, maturity. All humans struggle with the need to grow up, accept that the rest of the world is not here to serve us, that people are going to differ with us, and that this is okay. The world soon teaches us these lessons, and we find ways of coping with our younger egocentric view of life even if we do not fully transform it.
When skill and circumstances combine to put us in a formal leadership position, our early egocentric impulses are vulnerable to re-emergence. If, as too often happens, leaders are surrounded by followers who kowtow to them, the immature parts of their personality, which have not been fully transformed, tend to regain dominance.
Suppose the immature aspects of a leader’s personality appear with increased frequency. In that case, this leaves us in the odd and difficult position of serving a leader who is competent, even brilliant in some dimensions, and a spoiled brat in other respects. The internal confusion and conflict that a follower may feel when confronted by the discrepancy between the mature and immature traits of a leader should not be underestimated: is this brilliant, sometimes abusive leader deserving of my support or not.
This would not be difficult if we felt empowered to challenge a leader about immature behaviour while supporting the mature skills and judgment he brings to the group. If our behaviour is disruptive to the group, the leader is expected to raise the issue with us; similarly, we need to break the taboo against our raising behaviour issues with the leader. It is difficult to break the taboo because our early conditioning about leaders occurs in childhood, at home, and at school, where we are held responsible for our behaviour. However, authority figures are not held responsible for theirs.
As in so many aspects of a relationship, if we have difficulty with a leader who displays immaturity, we also have issues with maturity. Because of our sense of powerlessness, we often complain protractedly to others about a leader’s behavior instead of taking effective action. We do not serve the organization well by immaturely whining about a leader’s behaviour instead of confronting the leader and participating in mutual development.
It requires a courageous follower to confront a powerful leader about immature behaviour. The situation can resemble confronting a young child holding a loaded gun: you may be shot persuading the child to put it down. It requires a skillful follower to confront a leader that simultaneously respects the accomplished adult, preserves the adult’s self-esteem, and challenges the immature behaviour.