Do You Have The Maturity To Be A Great Leader?

September 24, 2015 Vince Molinaro


Personal Maturity

Recently, while researching a blog post on immature leaders, I came across the story of Martin Shkreli, a former hedge fund investor who has become, according to many sources, one of the most reviled people on the planet. How did this happen?

Well, Shkreli first made headlines in 2014 when the biotech company he formed to develop therapies for rare drugs, Retrophin, fired him after a steep drop in the price of its stock. Within a year, Retrophin had launched a lawsuit against the entrepreneur alleging that he took the company public as part of a scheme to enrich former hedge fund partners.

The bad news continued for Shkreli in 2015 when he purchased the rights to a drug called Daraprim – used to treat a parasitic infection common to AIDS and HIV patients – and then jacked up the price of the drug by more than 5,000 per cent. Both the Infectious Diseases Society of America and the HIV Medicine Association released an open letter accusing Shkreli of exploiting a “medically vulnerable patient population.”

What was his response? Via Twitter, he posted a video to the Eminem song “The Way I Am.’ Real mature.

In my wildest dreams, I could not find a better example of immaturity in a corporate leader.

The Shkreli story got me thinking about how, earlier this year, we did a research survey of North American senior human resource executives to identify the personal qualities that effective, accountable leaders demonstrate in their roles. The top three characteristics that we found in our research were:

  1. A common passion and drive to execute their business strategy
  2. A high degree of personal maturity
  3. Clarity about what their customers value

I was surprised to see maturity to make the list. To me, maturity is something that rarely gets mentioned in discussions about what it means to be a great leader.  Instead, we hear a lot about vision, drive for results and so on. But maturity? Rarely.

Perhaps this is a result of the fact that because “we’re all adults” we assume our leaders are automatically mature. But that’s not the case at all.

In fact, there have been times when my team and I have worked with fairly senior leaders, and through our work suddenly realize the person sitting in front of you is actually quite immature.

How can you tell when a leader lacks personal maturity? Here are four tell-tale signs we often see:

  1. When a leader behaves like a toddler. This is a leader prone to fits and emotional outbursts anger or crying at work, usually when they are under stress or when they don’t get their own way.
  1. When a leader does not play well with others. Remember that kid in the playground who would take their play and go home when everyone else didn’t play by his rules. Guess what, the same thing happens in organizations.
  1. When a leader behaves in a petty manner. These leaders become overly consumed by a really small issue and can’t seem to let it go. Then, they behave in an outright silly manner. Check out this blog of mine for a recent example.
  1. When a leader is overly defensive. When one can’t handle any kind of feedback, or is unable to see things as they really are.

If you are a leader and demonstrate one or more of these tendencies, how can you improve your own leadership capacity, and become more mature?

First off, you need to engage in honest self-reflection and admit that you can be immature at times. As well, you need to determine whether your immaturity is a chronic condition rather than something that only happens periodically.

Second, you need to develop your impulse control. My colleague Dr. Seonaid Charlesworth leads our succession and assessment practice. She defines impulse control as “being able to inhibit a first reaction in order to respond effectively to the core issue.  This is demonstrated when leaders show frustration, impatience and boredom in response to fulfilling their obligation as a leader.”

Finally, an important component of maturity is based on how one handles major challenges in our life or career.  We grow in maturity when we’ve faced adversity. The reality is, when we’ve suffered setbacks, we can learn to rise above them.

Stories like Shkreli should serve as a wake up call for all leaders to take stock of their own level of maturity and, where necessary, take the necessary steps to grow up.

This week’s gut check question asks: do you have the maturity to be a great leader?




About the Author

Vince Molinaro

Vince Molinaro is the Global Managing Director of Strategic Solutions at Lee Hecht Harrison. He is also the author of The Leadership Contract – a New York Times and USA Today bestseller. Vince has spent more than 20 years as an adviser to boards and senior executives looking to improve leadership in their organizations.

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