Consequences of a Macho Leadership Culture


We belong to a culture where leaders are forced to portray a Macho image. Macho leadership style is perceived by peers, supervisors and the rest as symbol of strength and courage. This style of leadership has existed for many decades in political, business and social spheres.

This blog is attempting to evaluate impact of Macho Leadership Culture and suggest an alternative. This blog is too short to cover all aspects of such a vast topic. However hopefully it will trigger sharing of different perspectives from readers which will help in my leadership journey.

Macho leadership has its perceived advantages. Macho leaders tend to appear confident and in control. This culture in an organisation brings in a level of demonstrated aggression in its leaders that is thought to be necessary in a highly competitive market.

Macho leaders work with the intent and belief that their actions and behaviours are good for the organisation and its people. Macho leadership is thought to be good for conflict resolution as the leader’s word is considered final. Its preferred by leaders who employ command and control as lever for execution excellence.

They attract loyal followers. I know of a leader whose followers attest that he “protects” his people and no one from other function dares to touch his team. It’s another question whether his team may appear to be collaborative to others.

There are a few compromises/blind spots in this style of leadership culture. The first causality in my view would be diversity of opinions and styles, as everyone is supposed to listen and revere the Macho leader.

People fear authority figures and they tend not to share news or views that are not aligned with that of the leader’s. This means such leaders may never be fully in touch with the reality.

Impact of this culture on the leader is the stress of keeping up with the image of infallibility. Failures are felt as humiliation rather than new learning. Organisations with such culture end up being risk averse. Leaders of such organisations would typically need evidence up on evidence of surety of success and returns before approving any new initiative while on other hand, calling for bold moves and innovation. Employees in such organisations exhibit fear, insecurity, frustration and in extreme cases, apathy.

Leadership in today’s VUCA world is not about controlling and managing actions of people. Today’s world calls for a leadership style that fosters learning, creativity, collaboration, empowerment, disruptive innovation and agility. This means not only leading execution, but also leveraging collective brain power of individuals in an organisation. I believe while one can command action, collective intelligence is only possible with liberated minds.

Leader’s aim hence should be to inspire free thinking towards a common purpose. The style that suites this in my view is Servant Leadership. An organisation with servant leader culture would be able to leverage the strengths of its employees, have lesser collective blind spots and have the risk appetite required for innovation.

While the outcome of such a change is fabulous, its difficult to shift from a Macho Leader culture to a Servant Leader culture. Servant Leadership requires leaders to have highest level of self reflection and awareness of the impact their actions, behaviour, words and even body language have on their teams. A transformation of this kind is arduous, requiring bold and courageous moves. It requires letting go of control, which would be terrifying for a leader used to command and control style of operation.

It’s also difficult because people would take time to adjust to this shift. It takes time for a majority to realise that its ok to make mistakes and more importantly, speak candidly to a leader. They may be sceptical at first, and closely observing differences in what the leaders “say” and “do”. If the say-do ratio is not close to 1, people will start doubting the intent. For eg; if a servant leader narrative is followed with a public “blasting” of a ‘carrier of bad news’ or ‘a less than perfect business plan’, say-do ratio may get questioned albeit not publicly. So will a special dining area/dish in a cafeteria or exceptions in spending by leaders in a year where employees are encouraged to cut costs. These same actions may not get questioned in a Macho Leader culture as there is no difference in say-do there!

The transition will be easier if your team helps! Be open about the struggles you have in transforming to a servant leader and express strong intent to change. Have open dialogues with your team on what it means to be servant leader. This way your team would help you and participate in your journey. And you would have developed a few more future servant leaders from within your team.

While the topic deserves more reading and research, I will leave you with a quote that is attributed to Lao-Tzu on leadership:

  • The highest type of ruler is one of whose existence the people are barely aware.
  • Next comes one whom they love and praise.
  • Next comes one whom they fear.
  • Next comes one whom they despise and defy.

16 Responses

  1. Jitender Pal Singh

    April 30, 2018 15:19

    Your r such great mentor and teacher who make complex things so easy so that others can understand, learnt lot from you willing to read more post in future.

  2. Amol Raul

    April 30, 2018 15:41

    Wonderful to read about Servant leadership….. could relate so much toninvisible leadership style 🙂

  3. Pratima

    April 30, 2018 16:02

    Couldn’t agree more. Have been part of organizations with Macho culture and the impact they have on employees confidence and overall development.
    The territorial approach is a clear deterrent to a culture of mutual respect and transparency.

  4. Abhishek

    April 30, 2018 16:11

    The very good one, Vinod! Cannot agree more especially the principles that you talked about in the last paragraph. Best leadership is invisible leadership.

  5. Lara

    April 30, 2018 16:27

    Amasing how it is true this macho leadership description… because of one of those I decided to change companies… a humble and helpful leader always gives us different push…. indeed gives us inspiration and joy to wake up everyday to come to work!!!
    You are an example of a servant leader and I enjoy seeing you leading and making your decisions through your team!
    Thanks for one blog more of super learning!’

    • Vinodkrishna

      April 30, 2018 16:30

      I was replying on a chat that Servant Leadership Culture can be built only if the tone is set from the top most leaders! Thank you Lara for your inspiration and support!

  6. Manoj Kumar

    April 30, 2018 16:28

    Quite an inspiring one.
    Specially quotes from Lao Tzu are like icing on the cake .
    Thanks a lot Sir.

  7. Manjesh

    April 30, 2018 20:24

    Sir I must say indeed it’s a Thought provoking Article Thank you for that,
    In your opinion Will these 5 behaviour will be a help for an individual to evolve as
    a servant leader
    1)commit to employee development
    2)Listen effectively
    3)Develop self awareness
    4)Feel empathy
    5)Promote Healing

  8. Amit Yadav

    May 1, 2018 04:04

    Good read. My take is a leader will have to have humility to understand challenges internal & external, thereby mobilise support. This is possible only when leader is in sync with team & realities. Smoothly transitioning between functional & managerial competence( both are important,as Team would require both support time to time)

    For sure, Leader can have serious discussion without being serious😊 Bit of humour is also good.

  9. Sonal kotian

    May 1, 2018 04:35

    Such a strong concept explained so easily:) Macho leadership is perceived to be all powerful but is it really collaborative – this really struck a chord! In an highly evolving dynamic environment only servant leadership can help sustain 🙏This article really resonates with all of us because at our workplace we can truly see Service leadership, everyday!

  10. Mihir Parikh

    May 1, 2018 08:24

    Very interesting concept.
    Love the idea of being transparent with the team and aligning them with “Servant Leadership” because I believe it’s very important for the team to “buy in”. Macho leadership has been the norm and team members may perceive servant leadership as indecisive.
    This style is very empowering and transfers a lot of onus on the team members to step up and take decisions – all this while being aware that making mistakes is ok.
    Thanks for exhibiting this style and leading by example.


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