Thursday, July 30, 2009

Traits of a Leader

There’s an awful lot of theory written about leadership nowadays. For the past decade, along with Mike Pratt, Clive Gilson, and Joe McCollum, we’ve been working with major companies on our view of what constitutes inspirational leadership and peak performance. It started by learning what we could from great sporting organizations such as the All Blacks – whose inspirational dream is to “maintain rugby’s position at the heart of the nation” (Peak Performance: Business Lessons from the World’s Top Sports Organizations, p.273) – and have since refined our thinking having worked with Saatchi & Saatchi, Publicis Groupe, Procter & Gamble, Toyota, Visa, and Novartis. I’ve been a big believer that the key to successful leadership is sharing your dream with your people, inspiring them to be the best they can be in pursuit of that dream, and emotionally connecting with them on an individual basis so that they can be the best they can be.

I was intrigued to read an article in the Harvard Business Review by Robert Goffee and Gareth Jones entitled “Why Should Anyone be Led by You?” They believe that the key differentiators in today’s world for successful leaders are:

  1. Show you’re human, selectively revealing weaknesses.
  2. Be a ‘sensor’ collecting soft people data that lets you rely on intuition.
  3. Manage employees with ‘tough empathy’. Care passionately about them and their work, while giving them only what they need to achieve their best.
  4. Dare to be different. Capitalizing on your uniqueness.
I believe in all four of these beliefs and recommend you read their article.

It’s not all harmony and agreement as I do differ in one or two spots. For example, on the first idea of showing your weaknesses, the two authors recommend you pick a flaw that others consider a strength, e.g. workaholism. This to me is manipulation and should be avoided. We all have plenty of real weaknesses to choose from. Let the real you show, be open and transparent, believe in man’s humanity to man, and other people will cover for you and compensate for your weaknesses.

The authors still view leaders as having to have followers. I think it’s more about inspirational players who feel like a family and perform like a team.

Two minor nits in what is really a fresh look at the realities of inspirational leadership in today’s world.