A CURE for SICK Leadership

Leadership is not easy. Even the best leaders can stumble at times. There are too few good leaders around, and even fewer great ones. While there is no shortcut to developing great leaders, there is a place to start where anyone can make an immediate positive impact.

From working with organisations as small as five people through to large global entities, one universal issue is the widespread low level of capability in leadership. It spans from the CEO to frontline supervision and all levels in between.

In a recent survey, only 11% of respondents strongly agree that Australian workers respect leaders in their organisation.

There are many reasons for this. One is that promotion is often based on technical or management proficiency – promoting people to leadership positions not based on leadership capability or aptitude.

Often when people are promoted, they’re not adequately upskilled by the organisation. They send the poor newly promoted first-time leader into the field ‘as is’ and hope for the best. This effectively turns the new manager’s team members into crash test dummies.

According to the Harvard Business Review article “We Wait Too Long to Train Our Leaders” most managers only start to receive leadership development “about 10 years after they began supervising people”. This situation makes for lots of what I call S.I.C.K. leadership.

What is S.I.C.K. Leadership?

In reality, it’s not a leadership model, but a model of poor behaviour exhibited by some managers. S.I.C.K. stands for: I sincerely hope you haven’t worked for one of these managers, but they’re definitively out there and are more common than we’d like. They come in different kinds due to differences in personality and situation, but the modus operandi is the same – its S.I.C.K.!

S.I.C.K. leadership basically is the result of leading from the ego and stems from the pride of holding a false sense of superiority. Each of the elements is an aspect of ego.

Self-centred and Self-serving
These traits just don’t make for effective leadership. The only people who will want to follow are sycophants who aspire to be just like them! Leadership by definition is about leading others and yourself. Even self-leadership is about being more effective to the benefit of the people you work with and for, as well as, your customers and suppliers.

Insecurity results from placing our sense of security in things external to our self. This is because external things are at risk. Any concern about losing or diminishing them is framed as a threat to our security, so it’s easy to feel threatened or insecure in this situation.

The problem occurs when we over-identify with these things, and see them as an extension of who we are, and not just as things we have, or we own. e.g. The “I am my job” syndrome.

So, the insecurity results from the attachment. Reputation, what others think of us, and even what we think of ourselves can be used as security, but it’s not helpful. A sense of self-worth that is conditional and based on performance or possessions is a fragile one.

“The ego is present in all of our attachments. We can be attached to wealth, possessions, a person, a group, our job, our intelligence, even our sense of spiritual attainment.” – Eckhart Tolle

Insecure managers are constantly comparing them self to others, and finding their self-assessment unfavourable, try to cover it up – as if they could. This comparing results in anxiety and a lack of self-confidence. This is not fertile ground for leadership to flourish.

Insecure managers are often resentful and competitive. They can’t celebrate someone else’s success, make no room for people who are more gifted or competent than they and like to surround themselves with people who will not challenge them legitimately.

Controlling and Competitive
These behaviours show up in many varieties. The bureaucrat is one type. The forceful type is another. The behaviours can be overt or covert. Control through micromanaging is common.

Micromanagement frustrates competent staff, is demotivating, and in some extreme cases dehumanising. It limits freedom, and while people don’t need complete freedom, they need enough leeway to feel empowered to do a good job, and have control over some of the factors of their work, as a means of individual expression and creativity.

Competitive leaders are one of the worst kinds because they’re playing against their own people! They limit other’s opportunities for advancement, as they’re always concerned about being surpassed, even by their own people, and may hold them back, with their aversion to helping others grow.

Lastly, the leader who always has to be right, to correct what others say to match their own opinion, and who needs to have the last word, demotivate their people and destroy morale.

They’re petrified of coming across as insignificant or incompetent, so they overcompensate by pretending they know it all. They rarely ask questions – and when they do, they almost never wait for the answer.

The C.U.R.E.

I found this little gem buried inside an advanced customer service training course I deliver to a large state government department. It uses the acronym ‘CURE’ as guidance for managing customer interactions.

This struck me as being a very succinct, simple, and yet powerful leadership model that anyone could use, right away.

Picture a leader who is confident, understanding, reassuring, and encouraging. Would like to work for them?

I’ve asked each group the preceding question and the overwhelming response has been “absolutely!”. I’m sure there are leaders like this out there. But we need more, and we can get them too if they start using this model.

Of course, literally anyone can use this as a model of behaviour, and I suggest we all should.

I highly recommend watching this animated video from Inno-versity. It was adapted from Truly Human Leadership by Bob Chapman, CEO of Barry-Wehmiller. It says so much about what we need to do to turn this world around.

Watch the video here:


Imagine a world where all leaders in all organisations adopted and implemented the spirit of Truly Human Leadership.

Now that I’d like to see.

Have you worked for a S.I.C.K. leader?

Please share your comments and experience, so we can all benefit.


Craig D’Souza is the founder and CEO of Perth based consultancy Business Velocity, which assists people to achieve success through their organisations, and organisations to achieve success through their people.