Leadership; It’s Not What You Think It is…

Contributor: Adrian Rutt

“What makes a good leader?”

The question itself produces list upon list of personality traits, attributes from historic figures, and the personal opinions of whomever you happened to ask such a monumental question. This is largely the route taken by books, articles, and speakers when talking about leadership: lots of lists and personal opinions. Furthermore, if it were possible to take every attribute, trait, and opinion from every single book, article, and speaker do you know what you would end up with? Everything. You would have before you a list of just about every single good human trait you could imagine. Thus you end up in just about the same place as you were before. Why? Because there’s no one telling you which way to turn your feet with all of this knowledge you just gained about effective leadership. You are essentially loaded down with all you need to be a good leader, but you have no destination. In other words, you wouldn’t call yourself a physicist because you read a physics book any more than you would call yourself a leader after reading a book about leadership. It takes more.

While devouring the latest books on leadership is a good strategy, it isn’t the entire strategy. At some point you would end up with a somewhat confusing list of leadership attributes that are portrayed as necessary. These resources aren’t necessarily bad, rather just that they can be confusing sometimes. They attempt to replace practical, conversational knowledge with words on a page, and what comes out the other side is distilled, theoretical bullet points. Useful, but again not the whole picture. What I am trying to get at is that books about leadership are inherently limited in scope. They are limited because—needless to say—the book doesn’t, and cannot ever, know you . But imagine how un limited and indispensable the information in these books would become if you had the chance to talk to someone who’s implemented it already and continue to use the advice on a regular basis.

We can continue to harp on and on in our culture about how all it takes to grow is to “go buy a book,” yet we know deep down that this cannot be the whole picture. If it is all we needed to do to lead people or succeed, the person who has checked out and read the most books would be de facto ruler of the world. But they are not. And the best leaders are most certainly not the ones who have merely read the most about leadership. It would be a safe bet that the person who has done this is probably one of the most confused aspiring leaders out there.

The best leaders are the ones that have worked closely with someone who understands how to accentuate certain strong qualities and mask other not so strong ones. The best leaders are the ones who know that self reflection can only go so far and take it upon themselves to seek out someone to be both critical and honest in their judgements. In short, what makes a good leader is one who understands themselves, and realizes that to attempt to be something you’re not is to be artificial, and to step off with the wrong foot from the start. What makes a good leader is someone who knows their own strengths and limitations—not someone else’s idea about strengths and limitations that they read in a book once. And lastly, a great leader is someone who develops their own version of leadership based upon their own strengths and weaknesses.

It’s pretty obvious that some of the greatest leaders have two things in common: they haven’t read every single new book on leadership that comes out, and they have mentors. And usually, it’s one or two of each, because getting good at something doesn’t mean implementing an entirely new system every time someone claims to have “found the keys to effective leadership,” but rather staying vigilant and disciplined in one or two areas.

There’s an idea floating around the diet world that “any diet will work as long as you stick to it,” and while this obviously has caveats, it has more truth to it than one would think. We always want to pick up that book and try to be that kind of leader. And then another book comes out and we want to be that kind. Or we attend a speech and we decide that kind of leader is best. What’s missing is consistency, personalization, and focused coaching with someone else on our own attributes and qualities. This missing aspect can never be accounted for in even the most comprehensive of books about leadership. It will always be missing that perfect intersection between what we soak up passively , what we put into action practically , and staying up to date with the most effective strategies to becoming and staying a good leader.

The question, then, isn’t “What makes a good leader?” but rather “What steps are you taking to ensure you are the best possible leader you can be?”


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