Have you ever noticed how many people in leadership positions shouldn’t be there?
Unless you’ve been living in the Himalayas, you’ve undoubtedly heard a classic example recently–the brouhaha and subsequent firing of the Rutgers University basketball coach and its athletic director–the former for browbeating his players into submission with physical and mental intimidation, and the latter for being stupid enough to let him get away with it.
Full disclosure: I’ve always disliked the attitude of some athletes and their coaches–those that are supposed to be leaders and role models. So I’m not a fan of jocks, ex-jocks and wannabe jocks and all the people who put jocks on a pedestal. They give the term “coaching” a bad name and prove that coaches are about as far from being true leaders as Gandhi was from being a warlord.
I also cringe at the popular practice of many in business to use sports analogies to describe good business practices and leadership qualities. I think we’ve reached a point where the phrase “there is no ‘I’ in team” is a bit disingenuous.
But sports are not the culprit. Bastions of bad leadership run from heads of state in places like Italy, Cyprus, Zimbabwe and North Korea, to the so-called captains of industry at companies ranging from Best Buy, Kmart, Hewlett-Packard, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the granddaddy of them all–Enron.
But this begs the real question, what does it take to be a great leader? Is it the command-and-control freak whose mantra is “Do what I tell you because I’m never wrong?” The self-proclaimed genius that thinks iPads can replace people; or the laid-back laissez-faire type who doesn’t mind losing control to employees?
The answer is simply that one size does not fit all!
Great leadership is transitional and transformational, and leaders must adapt their styles to rapid-fire changes in business, the type of operations they’re running and the nature of people working for them. These are just some of the factors that may require an autocratic approach one day and a democratic one the next.
Overall, leadership in any industry, organization or government is a delicate blend of art and science — somewhere between P.T Barnum and Oprah.
That being said, I’ve come across certain characteristics that are common to all:
- Simplify by cutting through the clutter of a complex situation to stop all the noise from others in order to communicate ideas and offer solutions everyone can understand. As we’ve seen time and again, great leaders are not just orators. They are the ones that listen to what others are saying.
- Inspire others to look beyond the petty day-to-day squabbles and egoism of the business environment to truly support each other and learn. Great leaders instill the germ of an idea and keep their people focused on solutions.
- Shed the command-and-control image. It may be efficient and may appear to make decision-making easier. But this type of leadership simply doesn’t create a feeling of trust or confidence in the people who work for you. Basically, people resent it. True leaders don’t need to consolidate their power by telling everyone else who’s in charge.
- Develop individuals within the organization rather than consolidating your own power. Too many leaders seem to be threatened by people who are coming up the corporate ladder behind them. The great ones encourage their climb and are confident enough in their own abilities to always be looking for their own replacement.
- Courage to admit mistakes without trying to throw others under the bus. And don’t try to hog the credit for the success of others. This will help create the team-like atmosphere that can be critical to a company’s success.
- Servant leadership. These are the people who are confident enough and have such a high work ethic that they can lead from the rear–meaning that it’s often the team, not the individual who gets the credit.
It’s like General George Patton used to say: “We herd sheep, we drive cattle, but we lead people. So lead me, follow me, or get out of my way!” Or a more bellicose approach “Si vis pacem para bellum.” Look it up!