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Les McKeown's Predictable Success Blog

First published November 2, 2011

Spotting the laugh-track leader 

In the last post we looked at how some leaders use the leadership equivalent of canned laughter to compensate for a lack of confidence in their own leadership abilities and/or the strategy they are tasked with implementing.Here are the five most common ways I see the ‘leadership laugh track’ manifesting itself:

1. Overemphasis on titles and status.
A pretty obvious way to use cues as placeholders for genuine leadership is to evoke the trappings of leadership by way of titles, a corner office, primo parking, flaunting the dress code – anything that signals “I’m a leader, and the fact that I have this thing or can do this thing proves it.”

2. Territorialism
Laugh-track leaders use place as a leadership cue. They tend to stay within known geographical boundaries where their status is recognized, are rarely seen ‘out and about’, and are uncomfortable venturing into places where their leadership may be questioned or unclear (think of the Michael Scott character in ‘The Office’ when he ventures out of his office and down to the warehouse).

3. (Over-) Use of vocabulary
For the uncertain leader, vocabulary is often a strong component part of their laugh track. It’s not enough to tell the laugh-track leader that say, a customer is unhappy – it has to be conveyed using the precise acronyms and terminology they insist on. Speaking plain english is the equivalent of stripping away their laugh track and leaving in its place an awkward silence.

4. Favoritism
Laugh-track leaders like cliques (or ‘claques’ – the original definition of which was a group of people hired as professional applauders in French theaters and opera houses). This ensures that there is a group of people who will constantly affirm the uncertain leader in their position, irrespective of what they’re actually saying or doing.

5. Tics
No, not facial tics, but an over-dependence on certain rituals or ways of doing things that goes beyond a preference to an obsession.

An example is the ‘give it to me on one page’ obsessive. Many true leaders like this aphorism and practice it – most of the time. But while they know when something is important enough to need more than one page, the laugh-track leader doesn’t.

How do you score? Do you find yourself doing any of these too often (of course we all resort to each of them from time to time – they key is to watch for dependence rather than usage).

Are there other ways in which you see yourself or others using a ‘laugh track’ – artificial cues to reinforce leadership status? If so, I’d love to hear them – join in the conversation and leave a comment below.

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