Six Griefs of Good Leadership – (4) DISGUST

In the fourth part of this series looking at the importance for leaders of working effectively with your emotions we will examine DISGUST. Is your willingness to engage with activities that you don’t like the sign of a potential leader? How often do you use your leadership position to offload the jobs you hate? How much does corruption or incompetence offend you?

  • Do I really have to do this?!
  • How could they produce such shoddy work?
  • This behaviour is unacceptable!
  • I don’t want to be associated with these practices!

There is a pithy saying often credited to Mark Twain but which probably originated with a French writer Nicolas Chamfort.

Eat a live toad the first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.

Considering how important disgust is as a human emotion, it is surprising that so little is written on the subject of leadership and disgust. But as a leader, if you don’t experience that ‘ugh!’ feeling fairly regularly, you are probably doing something wrong.

Taking on a leadership role doesn’t give you the right to dump all the things you don’t like doing on your poor underlings. One function of a good leader is to clear the crap out of the way so that your team can get on with their important tasks. This doesn’t mean doing their jobs for them but engaging with and improving systems so that they help rather than hinder.

Many people aspire to leadership roles because they desire autonomy or greater control. The sad truth is that, as a good leader, you usually end up doing lots of things that you don’t particularly enjoy but which are necessary. Dealing with poor performance when you want to maintain harmony or striving to build team confidence when you just want to rant at their errors. Consulting all your stakeholders and analysing the data when you want to rely on your gut and get on with things or making that decision and acting on it even though you don’t have all the data you need to be certain.

A good leader should recognise when it is time to act in ways that go against your normal habits and instincts. If you never feel like you are eating a toad you are not developing the range of behaviors a good leader needs.

The brain circuits that are involved in physical revulsion are also at work when we experience moral revulsion. The financial fall-out of corporate scandals, from cheating software in cars to mis-selling insurance, can be huge. Developing a stronger sense of disgust in response to bad practice and unethical behaviour is an important priority for any leader.

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