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RECHARGE :: Alan Hargreaves
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Tuesday
Aug092011

What type of leader can you be?

Start by managing what you manage well

High profile leaders get a lot of attention. They are invariably media-savvy and articulate, able to glibly deliver inspiring speeches on big concepts like mission and vision. Sometimes they even just look good. Never mind what they are saying; you just enjoy watching them say it.

In an age when celebrity status has become the key to newsworthiness, is this the model for leadership? It's as if the glamour CEO defines business leadership in the same way a bony cover girl defines the right body shape. It's a narrow definition that won't include most people, be they aspiring executives or standard-size teenagers. It's just one kind of leader. There are plenty of others.

Management needs to draw on a more diverse range of personalities than just this stereotype, yet we are swamped with leaderspeak which focuses on management style. CEO’s write autobiographies about how they did it; management gurus give you the “five really important characteristics of great leaders”. There's no shortage of advice. Google “leadership” and you’ll get a few million tips on how to get “it”.

Haven’t got “it”? You can choose to feel bad about it, asking the inevitable “why aren’t I like that?” That’s the sort of question that can hold you back in your career or your business, not to mention your life.

You do have another option

You’ve probably already got “it” somewhere. It just needs some exposure, rather than being hidden because it doesn't stack up in terms of the current management vogue. Despite reports to the contrary, all the boys in Grade 10 are not in love with the same anorexic girl. Nor are people going to follow just one kind of leader.

Would you have picked out Mark Zuckerberg as a leadership model? Iconic maybe, and great timing, but leader? Or the well told story of the dyslexic Richard Branson? Would you have picked him, expelled from school and running a loss-making student newspaper? For that matter, how do you feel about Kim IL Sung?  They are all in leadership positions. There's some similarities, but there are a lot of differences.

If you seriously over-analyze leaders, you can probably distil some similarities between Alexander the Great, Jesus Christ and Adolf Hitler. They all believed in their cause and they all died of unnatural causes: Hitler in his bunker by his own hand; Jesus on the cross by the hand of others; and as for young Alexander, popular theory has it that his liver gave up after a really big night in Babylon at age 33.

That doesn’t make those similarities a model for leadership behavior. Neither do a lot of other aspects of their careers. Subject to your beliefs, all three had significant shortcomings. Real leadership is too diverse to nail down to one particular style.

That's a good thing because it gives us all a chance to lead. Glamour styles can easily make us focus on our shortcomings, forgetting the 3 or 4, or maybe 5, things, that we are really good at. That's about all most people are good at. Five is actually a lot. You won't have time to excel in many more.

They are the basis of your leadership offering. Try feeling good about them. There might be 100 things required to make a business hum, but if you work on your best five, you’ve got a chance of leading in those areas because you are better at those things that most other people.

What’s more, people will notice. Some people are great at sales, or operations, or finance, or analysis, or collaborating, or being loyal, or empathic, or strategizing for that matter. It’s a long list, but people will follow you in the areas where you set the standard. 

You can put whatever your strength is to work right now. Great business leaders emerge from doing what they do best, rising to prominence after strutting their stuff as middle managers. Forget the other 95 things. Other people will do them. How can you do your five better?

 

Find out what you’re good at and how to put it to work in Recharge. You can buy it online here.

 

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