Throughout my years of study and ministry I have read many books and articles on the topic of leadership. After a while one notices a common theme running through the pages of these leadership books. Interestingly enough, Manfred Kets de Vries is quick to let his readers know that in The Leadership Mystique some of the ideas that he presents are not new and have been around for a long time.itisexam
Yet he also cautions the readers not to be so quick in ignoring those ideas and exchanging them for a set of trendy new ones. For the author it is not about the “long time ideas” being better or worse than the “new trendy ideas” but about how these ideas are played out in the lives of leaders and followers. The author encourages us to look at his observations in light of our own experience and to evaluate that experience critically. He challenges us with the following questions: “What are you doing about the leadership factor?” “How do you execute your own leadership style?” “What have you done today to be more effective as a leader?” “Do you walk the talk?” “Are you making an effort to be as effective as you can be?”
In the fourteen chapters of his book, Manfred Kets de Vries covers topics such as achieving personal and organizational change, emotional intelligence in the workplace, dysfunctional leadership factors, mussel syndrome (resistance to change), leadership in global context and leadership development. As important as all these topics are, the one that caught my attention was the dynamics of succession.
“Some people turn into good wine as they age; others, becoming increasingly sour with each passing year, turn into vinegar…some people immature with age.” In this chapter Kets de Vries talks about the process of aging.
“When we are under 35 we feel immortal; our perception of life is “time-since-birth.” This perception starts to change after 35 to “time-left-to-live.” We begin to feel that time is running out, and we experience a growing awareness of the inevitability of death. Because of this shift in perspective, we begin to feel an urgency about coming to terms with unresolved dreams and unfulfilled aspirations before it’s too late.”
Being slightly over 35 years of age I agree with the author that my perception has changed to “how much time do I have left?” Yet, my urgency is not about unresolved dreams and unfulfilled aspirations but about “What have I done today to be more effective as a leader?” “Do I walk the talk?” and “Am I making an effort to be as effective as I can be in developing future leaders?” It is very easy to become so focused on one’s legacy than on creating space for others and engaging in leadership development. Yes, it is important to look back and reflect on what you, as a leader, have accomplished. But as the author writes, leaders shouldn’t look in the mirror (or I would phrase it, leaders shouldn’t stay stuck looking in the mirror) they should look out the window! Looking out the window gives the leader an opportunity to identify people with leadership competencies and then develop them to the required level for succession.
Yet when we get stuck in looking in the mirror we can run the risk of falling into what Kets de Vries calls inaccessibility and game playing. “Inaccessible leaders are full of self-importance that they have no time for others. It would not occur to them to lead by example or walk around their place of work and community to listen to the people.” Instead they are lofty and unapproachable and can only be reached through their secretaries and assistants and closed-door policies.” Game player leaders are those who are only capable of talking and thinking about themselves. They refuse to let others shine, using and abusing others rather than helping them to grow and develop. They try to hog the limelight, whether it’s aimed below or above them. They are unwilling to plan for leadership succession, envying anybody who might take their place.
As a leader I have the responsibility to walk the talk and empower and enable others to their full leadership capacity. “Good wine” leaders speak to the collective imagination of their people, co-opting them to join in the journey. “Good wine” leaders are able to motivate people to full commitment and have them make that extra effort. “Good wine” leaders are able to adapt their own behavior to lead in a creative and motivating way.
Good wine or vinegar? What kind of leader are you becoming?
 Manfred Kets de Vries. The Leadership Mystique: Leading Behavior in the Human Enterprise. (Great Britain: Prentice Hall, 2006), xxi.
 Ibid., 214.
 Ibid., 215.
 Ibid., 71.
 Ibid., 72.
 Ibid., 2.