I’ve been thinking a lot about leadership, lately. Particularly, what makes a great leader vs. a lousy one. I’ve known a lot of lousy ones. I can count the great ones on the fingers of one hand. That’s really sad… and a little bit scary.
Back when I was fresh out of college, I enjoyed a brief but unforgetable tour of duty with the French Navy Marines. For the better part of a year, I had eight NCO’s working under me, each with a leadership style of their own. One was a tyrant. Another was a big brother. The rest found themselves somewhere in between. Most of these guys had 10-15 years of experience under their belts. I had three months. Let’s just say that when it comes to leadership training, I could have done a lot worse.
The tyrant didn’t last long with me. He and I didn’t see eye-to-eye on much. He had grown bitter about his career and enjoyed the power he held over his men a little too much. Morale on his team was low. His men weren’t engaged. They all wanted to transfer out to other units. Ironically, he was the one who got transfered after a few months. He was replaced by his second-in-command who ended up making a fantastic squad leader. Before long, requests for transfers ceased altogether, and everything got back on track.
I learned quickly that leadership isn’t about being the boss. It’s about giving your people the tools, the space, the authority, and the support they need to do their jobs. If you have the right people in place and give them all of these things, there is nothing they can’t or won’t accomplish or risk for you. Nothing.
I’ve met my share of lousy and good leaders since then, and I can tell you that the difference between a good leader and a bad one is huge. A bad leader can sink a billion-dollar company with a captive market faster than I can lose my shirt in a crooked poker game. A great one can make a small company with no capital the talk of its industry, and turn a small idea into a cultural phenomenon.
Let me tell you this: Leadership has nothing to do with diplomas or resumes. Our country clubs and executive suites are filled with serial CEO’s who couldn’t lead themselves out of a bunker, much less turn the companies they work for into the successes they were hired to conjure up. Leadership is a gift. A talent. You’re either a great leader or you aren’t. Sometimes, you don’t really know who the leaders are in a crowd until the fit hits the shan, and someone has to step up to save the day. Leaders aren’t always who you would expect.
Being a great leader is as much about character as it is about skill, experience and knowledge. It’s a complicated package. It’s a rare one. Finding one in the crowd can be as difficult as finding gold deep inside dark, damp mountains.
But they’re there, if you know what to look for.
What makes the lousy ones lousy? Here’s a list:
They don’t know how to listen.
They don’t love what they do for a living.
They don’t care about the people who work for them.
They don’t understand the difference between leadership and management.
They think that leadership is best exercised by barking orders.
They love power a little too much.
They inherited their position from Daddy.
They aren’t having any fun anymore.
They refuse to delegate.
They are terrified of making mistakes.
They really, really like the prestige of their position.
What makes the great ones great?
You naturally want to work for them.
They love what they do.
Their vision is both original and unshakable.
To them, failure is just a point on the learning curve, and nothing to be afraid of.
They’re most inspiring one-on-one, over a beer.
They are loyal to their team.
They are naturally curious.
They know when to listen, when to speak, and when to act.
“A leader is most effective when people barely know he exists. When his work is done, his aim fulfilled, his troops will feel they did it themselves.”– Lao Tzu
And this, from Lisa herself:
“Invisible leadership feels more like doing the best things without yielding power. Invisible leaders influence the system and people by being a partner.
“How do you select, hire, measure, and retain invisible leaders? Now that’s the rub. Well, if they love what they do (and they’d have to) retention is probably not the issue. Finding invisible leaders will take more work and a whole new mindset toward hiring criteria. The behavioral interview, so popular today, might not work to find the best invisible leader.
“Personally, for my next corporate gig, I want a fair wage for what my role is expected to contribute and then NO financial incentives. Hold me accountable – absolutely. Fire me in a heart beat if I do not perform. If I am doing my job as a leader, you will know it – not because I get accolades at meetings or make big and flashy wins. You will know it because the workplace is engaged, on fire, and performing better than you could have imagined.”
That last part, the section in bold letters, it pretty much says it all. I’ve seen that magic happen before. I’ve seen it in the Navy. I’ve seen it on the soccer field. I’ve seen it in the corporate world. I’m not sure that a leader should necessarily be invisible, but I’ll settle for one that knows how to empower her people and is wise enough to get out of their way once they start working their magic.
Leaders take their people and their companies where they always wished to go, but would have never dared to on their own.