“Hope is the only good god remaining among mankind; the others have left and gone to Olympus. Trust, a mighty god has gone. Restraint has gone from men and the Graces, my friend, have abandoned the earth. Men’s judicial oaths are no longer to be trusted, nor does anyone revere the immortal gods; the race of pious men has perished and men no longer recognise the rules of conduct or acts of piety” (6th Century BC Greek Poet, Theognis of Megara)

Pandora’s box, an artefact of Greek mythology, was actually a large storage jar, but was later mistranslated as a box. According to Hesiod, when Prometheus stole fire from heaven, Zeus, the king of the gods, took vengeance by presenting Pandora to Prometheus’ brother, Epimetheus. Pandora opened a jar in his keeping containing sickness, death and many other unspecified evils which were then released into the world. Though she hastened to close the container, only one thing was left behind – usually translated as “Hope”, though it could also have had the pessimistic meaning of “deceptive expectation”. From this story has grown the idiom of “opening Pandora’s box”, meaning to do or commence something that will cause many unforeseen problems. Its modern, more colloquial, equivalent is “to open a can of worms”.

Some managers should not occupy leadership positions. Probably promoted on account of technical excellence (being good at what they do), these new managers don’t necessarily have the leadership skills, emotional intelligence and communication ability to lead people. For them, leadership is a linear process – often autocratic in style, based solely on a clinical approach to problem-solving, interaction only in terms of logic, lacking empathy and showing little understanding of the emotional facets and nuances of the human being. Also other managers, who equally should not occupy leadership positions, are impulsive, changing (according to their moods) and unpredictable. These managers typically cause confusion, frustration and uncertainty. Anxiety, even fear, is instilled in the organisational culture. Employees have no clue how the manager is going to show up at work. Appointing the above two examples into management positions is just like opening up Pandora’s box – you just don’t know what you are going to get and many unforeseen problems could be caused.

Employees need an environment of certainty, collaboration and purpose to be able to thrive in the fulfilment of their respective roles. This environment is created by leaders who demonstrate the following attributes:

  1. Character – integrity, trustworthiness, vales-based decision-making and believability. They model the way by leading by example. They demonstrate the company values through their behaviour.
  2. Competence – not just technical skill, but they have taken the time to develop their listening ability, communication, facilitation and other leadership skills.
  3. Care – compassion and a profound respect for the dignity of the human being. Employees need to know that they are valued and that their good work is appreciated.
  4. Consistency – evenness in leadership expression, the same of which treats everyone fairly. Here managers are firm (especially in terms of performance and behaviour expectations), but calm in the way that discussions are conducted.

Technical ability is not the only prerequisite for promotion. The potential manager also needs to be assessed for all that makes for good leadership. If we promote people irresponsibly, we could be opening up a Pandora’s box of unforeseen problems for the organisation.

Photo credit: Fine Art Images – Walter Crane, “Pandora”, 1885

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