the blog of dan pontefract | The Platonic Leader: Stage 3 of 5 in the Leadership Tonic Scale
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The Platonic Leader: Stage 3 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 third 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 Platonic Leader

I know, your first thought is, “wait … shouldn’t all leaders behave in platonic ways otherwise HR gets overburdened with harassment complaints and Finance has to start cutting an inordinate number of severance cheques?” Well ya, but my definition of a Platonic Leader is not about sex in the office. It’s about those leaders who are in fact pretty successful in their role but they shy away from — you might say shun — any trait whatsoever that demonstrates friendliness, compassion and/or caring for their team members.

The Platonic Leader gets the job done but does so not necessarily caring about the feelings of those he has bull-dozed to accomplish the goal, be it his own employees or those from other parts of the organization. It’s a bit like Russia’s Vladimir Putin in his eternal quest to remain in power. Or better yet, (blasphemous as it may be) perhaps it’s like Steve Jobs who would publicly berate team members if products were not to his liking and who was alleged to have micro-managed a project to achieve his vision without a care for the hearts and minds he bowled over in his perfection journey.

The Platonic Leader is a cardboard cut-out. Many senior leaders will look for the Platonic Leader to lead particular posts in an organization as they are often viewed to get the job done no matter the cost. They live by words such as, “we can do more with less” or “we’re eating our own dog food” or “it’s like putting lipstick on a pig” or “it’s not rocket science stupid.” In other words, they’re a bit robotic but effective.

What More to Know:

  • They are good people, sadly they are a tad clueless when it comes to emotional intelligence
  • Reach out to them and help them see what might transpire if they balanced a results driven personality with a sprinkling of compassion and employee engagement (suggest a coach)
  • Begin some of your conversations asking about their weekend, current events or even bring up your own personal situation and see if you steer the leaders towards a lighter side

Don’t have sex with the leader. (Do you remember Lewinsky?) That’s going a tad too far. Platonic leaders simply need a whack on the head to help them understand business intelligence is nothing unless there is personnel intelligence as well. They have to become less of a cardboard cut-out and more like the combination of Dorothy, the Cowardly Lion, the Tin Woodman and the Scarecrow – a well-rounded openly communicative and collaborative human being.

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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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