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Temper your ‘inner Patton’

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in Best-Practices Leadership,Leaders & Managers

After the death of George Steinbrenner in 2010, people asked whether a lower-key approach by the New York Yankees owner could have accomplished just as much. Research suggests that you need a balance between drive and domination.

Ego, brashness and a sense of entitlement seem essential components of a leader, providing a seedbed for risk-taking, not to mention a cushion in the event of a setback. Steinbrenner’s hero—surprise!—was Gen. George Patton.

Studies show that people are hard-wired to crave hierarchy and cede authority to people who take the reins. In studies of group behavior, it’s usually the overconfident talkers, not necessarily those with the most knowledge or experience, who take on leadership roles.

Apparently, just the image of power or authority raises people’s confidence.

But this may backfire. An illusion of control may come from keeping your own counsel instead of listening. That feeling, in turn, may be related to a finding that leaders who make tough calls from the gut come across as more decisive than those who weigh their decisions. People gravitate toward leaders who make quick decisions in moral dilemmas.

All this deference can create an insufferable attitude. During the 1980s, Steinbrenner continually fired managers and insulted players until he was temporarily banned from baseball. When he came back, he showed more patience and less anger until by 1996, after 18 years in the wilderness, his team started winning championships.

Bottom line: The best leaders keep their perspective along with their inner Patton, pushing away feelings of superiority and infallibility.

— Adapted from “The Boss Unbound,” Benedict Carey, The New York Times.

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