Are media portrayals of leadership reinforcing negative stereotypes and expected behaviours?

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Are media portrayals of leadership reinforcing negative stereotypes and expected behaviours?

Just as the latest study, research and academic wisdom around leadership, particularly the importance of calm leadership, is cutting through the noise and beginning to land within business we get a timely reminder that there is still much to do thanks to research carried out by Domino’s Pizza Group. This was the headline that caught my eye recently and it did not make for uplifting reading; “BEST LEADERS ARE RUTHLESS, GO-GETTERS SAY MILLENNIALS.”

A study commissioned by Domino’s Pizza (undertaken by Kantar TMS) during August 2017 explored attitudes to leadership among three age groups (16–22 / 23–40 / 41–52. Gen Z/Y/X).  Findings showed that the younger generation expected leaders to be more ruthless and aggressive, less consultative, and have lower ethical standards than their older colleagues. Findings also indicated that soft skills such as the ability to listen to team members, build a consensus and resolve conflict were all deemed less important by the 16-22 (Gen Z) age group.

“Best Leaders Are Ruthless, Go-Getters Say Millennials.”
Kantar TMS, 2017

Millennials expect today’s leaders to be even more ruthless and aggressive than before

Domino’s Chief Operating Officer, Simon Wallis, suggested this may be due to the way leaders are portrayed in our popular culture via programming such as The Apprentice and The Devil Wears Prada. He may well have a point and I would add that leadership reputation and standing has not been helped recently by the daily and, sadly, on-going diet of appalling behavior demonstrated by our UK political elite.

“This may be due to the way leaders are portrayed in our popular culture via programming such as The Apprentice.”
Simon Wallis, Chief Operating Officer, Domino’s

Reading the article did jolt me out of my normally uneventful tube journey though, particularly as I was on my way to talk about the importance of calm leadership at the BOC HR Leadership Conference at the time (Life can really have a good laugh at you sometimes).

My first reaction interestingly was straight denial. Noooo, that can’t be true, it must have been a small survey, too simplistic or maybe working the data to make a point.

It was fascinating observing my brain working so hard to take the information I was reading and squeeze it out of shape to fit the view I already held about Millennials and Post-Millennials. After all, we know that the younger generation have a big sense of social purpose, they like to listen and want to be heard. The idea that they expect leadership to be ruthless, aggressive, less consultative and working to lower ethical standards was a jolt. And not a pleasant one.

Our organisations don’t work to the old hierarchical structures of the past. We operate through knowledge, shared ideas and collaboration. We know this from a practical point of view, through observation within business and we also know it because we understand much more about how our brain works. We know that excessive stress, anxiety and fear shuts down our thinking capability, which is a problem if employed as a knowledge worker.

Aggressive and ruthless do not hold the lead roles anymore. That is not to say they are not needed. Occasionally, dependent on certain situations, they may be called upon. However, they are the exception not the rule and should only be employed with skill, understanding and knowledge. Much more valuable are those who can mine the latent creativity within their teams, hold the space for their people to make the connections for themselves and create an environment built on a mindset open to possibility, learning, growth and failure.
About as far away from The Apprentice as you can get.

Much more valuable are those who can mine the latent creativity within their teams, hold the space for their people to make the connections for themselves and create an environment built on a mindset open to possibility, learning, growth and failure.

The Apprentice, it can (I suppose) be argued, makes for good TV. Business is not TV though and those of us who make business are worth more, contribute more and are more than TV would have us believe.

Genuinely, in business, I think we have made progress in the leadership space and we will continue to do so. The Domino’s Pizza survey was a salient reminder not to become complacent and to stay mindful of the role models and messages our younger generations are bombarded with. We may have to work harder for our voice to be heard and ensure a more balanced understanding of leadership life.

Deborah Hulme, Director & Leadership Development Specialist, Minerva Engagement

Minerva Engagement improves business performance from the inside out.  Ask us for more information on leadership development to improve engagement levels in your organisation.  View more blogs from Minerva Engagement or follow us on Twitter @MinervaEngage