I recently attending a planning retreat where the warm-up exercise involved picking which superhero you would want to be. As each participant named the standards like Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, those called on later in the process tried to select a hero with fewer weaknesses to trump the previous suggestions. When the group reached the last participant, the person stood up and said, “This is tough; I wanted the ultimate hero, but they all have some silly weakness.” As we moved on to other topics, I started to reflect on how it is our nature to make the same assumption about our leaders. We want them to be good at everything, in every situation, and with every challenge. However, no one is the ultimate employee, leader, or hero. We have some weakness.
Most leadership scholars and gurus espouse a magic formula for successful leadership, yet there are far less overlapping elements than one would imagine. Moreover, when applying the “reality test,” some stand out as great examples of what makes a leader successful, while others clearly come from people that have never had to convince a group of people to do anything they did not readily want to do. Although a perfect “formula” continues to elude us, what basic factors correlate with good leadership? In looking at the vast array of work, four elements seem to stand out across the breadth of interpretations:
- Ability to develop and communicate strategy
- Ability to execute processes or activities and produce desired outcomes
- Ability to develop positive, professional relationships
- Ability to grow yourself and those around you
If we are very lucky, we might have worked for a leader that excelled in each of these areas. However, the more common experience coincides with working for someone that possesses strength in one or two areas, but not all four.
Although assuming everyone has some type of weakness answers “Why?” for the rarity of possessing all four, the more interesting question may be how to do we ensure that we select those with the least weaknesses?
In our next several posts, we will example this key question.