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Want to be a Leader? Lesson One – Try Being Charmless and Uninspiring.

Source | LinkedIn : By Stuart Hamilton

Writing an article on leadership should be easy, yes? There are so many articles written on leadership, and all could give material I could borrow for this one, stuff like “passion”, “vision”, and “drive for results”. Yet when I look at the current crop of leaders, I see very little passion or vision. I mostly see somewhat charmless administrators. And this is what makes this article difficult to write – because I’m admitting that for leadership, skills like ability, empathy, and vision might not count for much anymore.

In an ideal world, the leader would have all the best qualities. Unfortunately, more common is the “safe pair of hands” syndrome. The “safe” choice is considered “unflappable”, sometimes characterized as, “Calm in a crisis”. The issue is that I know plenty of people who are unflappable, but they shouldn’t be leaders. They don’t have qualities like empathy or drive, but they are tactical and political. Both qualities are to be valued but not as leadership qualities alone. The consequence of only promoting individuals that are “safe” means we have lost the imagination and creative strength that drives progress. Instead, our organizations transform to be stagnant and then apathetic as team frustration becomes institutionalized.

Picking just one example; the Forbes article (read 10 million times), “Top 10 Qualities That Make a Great Leader”, lists confidence, honesty, positive attitude, inspiration, and a few more. Add in other qualities that there seems universal agreement a leader should have; loyalty to the team, value risk assessment, strategic focus, empowerment, and drive for results. But all these qualities look in short supply in the leadership tier. More common is ambivalence and political maneuvering.

If you interviewed for a position and mentioned you were curious, insightful, and not afraid to challenge the status quo, then terrific – you’re hired! But not as a leader. Instead you will function as a valued sole contributor. The leader got hired based on their skills with powerpoint, their ability to craft emails, and their political savvy. You were classified as a “loose cannon” when you mentioned you challenged the status quo.

At a client, I noticed a presentation for the employees being advertised; “Dumping Predictable Thinking Defeats the Competition.” Your reaction might be, “See! Leadership doesn’t have to come up with ideas as long as they facilitate them from elsewhere in the company.” And you are right. Ideas don’t need to come from Leadership, but Leadership would be responsible for turning those ideas into reality. But usually, these leaders are too busy telling you why the company can’t follow through and explaining why it is would be difficult to implement for all sorts of “practical reasons”. The reasons are probably legitimate, but true leaders find ways to manage these constraints and not allow themselves to be limited by them. If these ideas were easy to implement, the company would already be doing them; Leadership should take on hard challenges and help to transform the conventional wisdom they are fond of complaining about. Promoting “safe” leadership isn’t going to get the heavy lifting done and instead only stifles creativity, all while the same leaders are patting themselves on the back for pointing out the flaws in approaches. Instead, they should be addressing the flaws and improving the situation.

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