Despite the thousands of articles and books, leadership myths still circulate that are very stubborn. One of the leadership myths that bothers me is that really good leadership is remarkably difficult. Rubbish: really good leadership is simple. Let’s examine a short list of the things that are not needed to be a great leader. Then we will contrast them with another list of things that are essential.
Things not needed to be a great leader
- You do not need to be brilliant Sure, you do need a functioning brain and the ability to conceptualize options, but there are plenty of thinkers in every organization. It is one of the biggest leadership myths that a leader must be super intelligent; in fact, if you push it to the extreme, a leader with genius IQ will have a difficult time relating to people in the organization and end up grossly misunderstood.
- You do not have to be perfect. Leaders who concentrate on doing everything correctly miss big opportunities because they have a low tolerance for risk. Making foolish blunders is not the mark of a great leader. But a person who has a good batting average and is willing to take calculated risks generally makes a better leader. The ability to make an honest mistake and admit it to people shows the leader is vulnerable, which is an endearing characteristic that builds trust in most circumstances.
- You do not need to look the part. Having studied successful and struggling leaders in organizations of all types, I can tell you that the top echelon of leaders in most cases are indistinguishable from their underlings that have more “normal” physical appearance (whatever that means). Some of the best leaders I have ever met wear a polo shirt and jeans to work.
- You do not need to be a workaholic. Successful leaders do work hard, but the best ones recognize that to be exceptional, they need to have balance in their lives. They take the time to refresh and enjoy an active family and social life. When I see a leader who is married to the job and thinks only about work-related issues, I see a person who is near burnout and does not realize that a little rejuvenation would improve rather than diminish the overall performance.
Things you must have to be a great leader
- You must have a set of positive values. Not only must a leader have values, but he or she must adhere to them at all times. When I see a set of values and ask the CEO if he always follows his values, I often hear weasel words like, “Well… we try to always follow our values, but sometimes it is very difficult to do so.” Rubbish! When things are most difficult is when following your values is most important.
- You must have high Emotional Intelligence. According to Bradberry and Greaves in Emotional Intelligence 2.0, the definition of EQ is, “Your ability to understand emotions, and your skill at being able to use that awareness to manage yourself and your relationships with others.” Leaders with low EQ have significant blind spots, as noted by Daniel Goleman; they cannot see their own inconsistencies.
- You must have passion and humility. The rare combination of leadership traits was highlighted in Good to Great, by Jim Collins. The passion for the vision allows a leader to have the stamina and tenacity to pursue challenging work. Humility keeps the leader from being too aloof with people.
- You must have great people skills. You need to be able to work well with people at all levels consistently over time. All of the people skills are important with special emphasis on communication skills.
Of course, we could name hundreds of other things that leaders either need or do not need to be great. But these eight factors are important things that I often see being confused by incumbent leaders. If you spend most of your energy pursuing the traits that are not needed and not enough emphasis on the essential traits, you are going to come up short as a leader.
Exercise for you
Try to expand on my lists of the things that are not needed and the things that are essential to be a great leader. It will clarify your thinking about what is important, which will lead to growth for you.
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Bob Whipple is CEO of Leadergrow Incorporated, an organization dedicated to development of leaders. He speaks on leadership topics and the development of trust in numerous venues internationally. He also has taught graduate leadership and business classes at several universities. As a leadership coach and business consultant, he works with individual clients as well as large organizations such as government agencies, corporations, and The Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce. A highly successful leader at a Fortune 500 company for over 30 years, Mr. Whipple accomplished revolutionary change leading a division of over 2000 people through the application of outstanding “people” skills.
He is author of five books on trust.
Bob’s ability to communicate pragmatic approaches to building trust in an entertaining and motivational format has won him top ranking wherever he speaks. Audiences relate to his material enthusiastically because it is simple, entertaining, and profound. His work has earned him the popular title of “The TRUST Ambassador.”
The “Trust Across America: Trust Around the World” organization has honored Mr. Whipple with the Lifetime Achievement Award for Thought Leadership on Trust – one of only 34 people worldwide to achieve that level. He is a Founding Member of the Alliance of Trusted Business Experts (ATBE). He was named as one of the Top 100 Leadership Speakers by Inc. Magazine for the past three years. He is also a member of the National Speakers Association. He is a certified Vistage Speaker and a member of The Global Speakers Federation. Whipple is registered on “Speakerpedia” as an international speaker and is also listed as an “Orate” Speaker. He received the 2011 BEST Consultant for Learning and Performance Award in the Central New York region of ATD. He was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Rochester Chapter of the Association for Talent Development.