‘Leadership’ Myth Hides Need for Solid Managers

“Leadership” is the growth sector of the 21st century. There’s an entire industry built on “leadership.” Books and magazine articles focus on it as the miraculous talisman that makes victory in a challenging environment possible.


When I consult with the recruiting managers for my clients, the single most common misconception they bring to the process is the idea that they need to look for someone who can provide “leadership.”

I have a way to disabuse them of this self-limiting idea that I’ll share later in this column, an analysis I call the “Assistant Manager of a 7-Eleven Test.”

The intent is not to imply that the cluster of aptitudes and personality factors that “leadership” loosely encapsulates is worthless. Far from it—it’s very valuable, if metaphysical, stuff.

The leadership industry is ridiculous because it’s a faith-based initiative in an arena that demands tangible, not spiritual, results. In some ways, the leadership industry is dangerous in its ability to distract effective organizations from effective recruiting criteria.

In every line of work where there’s the slightest shred of competition, or that evolves faster than Jason Giambi can perambulate, C-level managers have to recognize and champion vision; then they have to execute it for the organization to continue to succeed.

But if you can’t execute a vision, that is, manage it into reality, either the vision or your contribution is torque-free … a waste of oxygen.

For a C-level executive, leadership is a useful add-on—a nice-to-have extra on top of management ability. Leadership without management is intent without action, the sound of one hand considering clapping. And leadership is not something you can teach, effectively imitate or even define.

Further, it’s ephemeral: What constitutes good leadership in one environment’s situation seriously mutates when the environment evolves, and they are always evolving, so the formula for successful leadership is nothing you can put on a recipe card and bake up the next time you need to deliver it.

To some degree, leadership is about what you say to the group and when and how you say it. But the words themselves are not the make-or-break factor.

Take the words from a top-rated Bill Clinton speech and put them in the mouth of Sen. Joe Lieberman, and you’ll have a cure for insomnia, not the charismatic emotional thunder that Clinton achieved.

The exact things that give voters such a powerful frisson about George Bush Jr. would leave them narcoleptic coming out of the mouth of Rep. Tom DeLay.

Leadership is, more than anything else, a way of being—a blend of conduct, personality, emotional intelligence and body language that is an appropriate set of responses for the group at the moment it’s being acted out.

Next Page: Imitation doesn’t work over time.

CIO Insight Staff
CIO Insight Staff
CIO Insight offers thought leadership and best practices in the IT security and management industry while providing expert recommendations on software solutions for IT leaders. It is the trusted resource for security professionals who need network monitoring technology and solutions to maintain regulatory compliance for their teams and organizations.

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