good leadership can be criminal

2 06 2007

i ran across an interesting article while surfing hr.com for some ideas regarding leadership. david langdon, who served the london (uk) police department as a detective for 12 years and then moved to organization psychology, points out that there are leaders who may not be on the right side of the law, but are successful leaders in the world they operate in. in search of leadership excellence: considering criminal leadership explores the business characteristics that enable a drug dealer to conduct his “business” successfully.

langdon is careful to point out that he’s not endorsing the illicit behaviors of such leadership. if you can suspend judgment for a few minutes, his article has much to share about dealing with volatile markets, fickle consumers, erratic supply chains, and employees who may not share your motivations.

he identifies twelve characteristics that not only help criminals succeed, but good leaders should also understand and make their own. a few examples:

be brave
Show little to no fear to your people, (unless you want to create impact and shock)…. high self-awareness and self-control over what you say and do, don´t jump too soon. And right now in this recovering market being brave is essential.

Keep up with the market – and move with the times
When cell phones first came out, criminals were amongst the first users. They used them for communication, used them to facilitate ´spotting´ the Police, …keep close to the market, be first (or second) in there and then shape the market too, don´t replicate the obvious. Move with the pack, but do not become a pack member.

keep tight lipped about new ventures:
in all areas of criminal activity, less is more. leadership depends on keeping potential activities close to the chest. you never know ´who´ you are talking to when you share information, or, who they might share that with…. create a bond within the team that knows what silence means, and knows the implications if information is shared. if you don´t want information shared, then don´t share it with anyone, then you´ve not lost control.

he also points to the drive and motivation criminals have for success. success in their world can pay huge dividends and failure has dire consequences.

langdon’s insights into leadership are powerful, regardless of the fact that he’s referring to drug dealers and other criminals. ignoring the strengths of your opponents can only lead to defeat. while criminals may not be behaving in accordance with socially acceptable norms, to assume that there are not good leaders and capable business men and women among their ranks is not only ignorant, it’s straight up dangerous. suntzu, the ancient chinese philosopher wrote in his art of war:

carefully compare the opposing army with your own,
so that you may know where strength is superabundant and where it is deficient.

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