the blog of dan pontefract | The Ironic Leader: Stage 2 of 5 in the Leadership Tonic Scale
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The Ironic Leader: Stage 2 of 5 in the Leadership Tonic Scale

The Leadership Tonic Scale identifies and defines five types of leadership styles found in today’s organization. This is the second of those five types. Come back and visit each day during the week of June 3, 2013 to find out the next leadership type as depicted in the Leadership Tonic Scale.

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The Ironic Leader

The ‘Ironic Leader’ lives a leadership life of irony. Of course many people confuse coincidence with irony, but this is no coincidence. Ironical, isn’t it? Irony stems from the Greek word eironeia’ which was defined as simulated ignorance. That about sums up the definition of the Ironic Leader; it’s someone who simultaneously ignores her team whilst conveying the exact opposite of what she is purporting. It’s like a dog owner is saying ‘sit’ to her dog yet the dog is deaf and the owner actually wants the dog to go for a walk.

The Ironic Leader is an ATNA — all talk no action — where she talks up a good game to the team but never actually accomplishes anything or remembers what she said in the first place. You’ve heard of ‘paralysis by analysis’? This is the epitome of our Ironic Leader. She analyzes everything until everyone’s eyes start bleeding only to succumb to a time bomb going off that destroys the project. It reminds me of certain leaders at XEROX during the heyday of the PARC lab who sat on a goldmine with the invention of the mouse and the graphical user interface (GUI) only to see others (like Apple) swoop in and buy/steal the original idea. Ironic Leaders say one thing and do another.

It’s a bit like Jay Leno. (ask Conan O’Brien)

Imagine being told in 2004 that you would host The Tonight Show (as Conan was told) in 2009. Both Jeff Zucker (the NBC executive orchestrating the career development paths of Jay Leno and Conan O’Brien) and Jay Leno agreed to such a plan. Once Conan assumed the mantle of The Tonight Show, his tenure was about as long as the reign of King Edward VIII although only one of the two actually abdicated his role. (guess which one?) Both Zucker and Leno acted like Ironic Leaders; they both said one thing and when things didn’t go their way, immaturity, a coward DNA and gutlessness set in and O’Brien got the shaft.

What More to Know:

  • Their words are translucent; gain assurance from them on your deliverables, deadlines, etc.
  • Set the tone, the agenda and the playbook. Be proactive and take charge.
  • Dithering leaders need a carefully orchestrated punt in the backside; figure out how to deliver it without getting fired.

Ironic Leaders are a step up from the Moronic Leader but they can be equally if not more frustrating. They mean well (unlike a Moronic Leader) but can’t figure out how to run to first base after cracking their bat. They may even get tossed from the batter’s box because they took too long to get ready. Wait, didn’t they say they hated baseball? How ironic!

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NB: the Leadership Tonic Scale does get better from here. What’s the next stage? Although I didn’t include the Leadership Tonic Scale in my book Flat Army: Creating a Connected and Engaged Organization, you may be interested in Chapters 4-6 (The Connected Leader) and Chapter 7 (The Participative Leader Framework) in particular as they help to depict what I believe are the key ingredients to 21st century leadership. The entire Leadership Tonic Scale will be released on June 10th as a free downloadable paper.

UPDATE: The Leadership Tonic Scale downloadable PDF is now available.

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