I have been involved in a series of leadership interviews for a client recently. They have a leadership model which maps out the various traits and capabilities they’re looking for in their leaders.
During the feedback sessions, I spoke to a number of candidates, all of whom were successful leaders and managers, all of whom had a different combination of skills and attributes and none of whom had the ‘perfect’ combination.
One person, for instance, was really insightful, passionate about change and very analytical. We talked about how his focus on facts and figures meant he risked not giving an emotional argument for change i.e. how that change would benefit customers and employees.
Another individual was slow to trust people but once he did trust someone it was absolute. We talked about the impact that might have – that he had a tendency to micromanage people to start with and then delegate to them completely. This could result in an in crowd of people he trusted.
Yet despite their flaws all these individuals were very effective leaders already, hugely competent and self-aware.
As I talked to these individuals about the need to trust more, or less, or present a more emotional argument it occurred to me that all of this was in response to the need to work to a list of desired attributes.
Who is perfect?
It struck me that perhaps there isn’t one perfect person who can possibly have all the desired leadership traits in the right proportions. Perhaps we’re asking for the moon, we’re demanding perfection where perfection doesn’t exist.
And by having a tick list of requirements it means what we’re essentially looking for is good all-rounders and by focusing on this ideal we risk ignoring each person’s strengths, those very abilities that have got them to a senior position already.
It seems to me that the best leaders in our society are known for having a particular trait, a star quality. They are not, typically, all-rounders. They know what they’re brilliant at and focus on that. And, crucially, they surround themselves with a team of people who can do the stuff they’re not so good at.
What have I concluded?
- Leadership models should be viewed as a set of standards, not as a ticklist of essential requirements
- Organisations should view their leaders as individuals rather than judging them against a list of set behaviours
- The focus should be on strengths and how to build on those, rather than addressing weaknesses.