For many years people have pulled me aside at meetings, conferences, cocktail parties and dinners, in search of a simple answer to a question they had obviously been struggling with: What does it take to be a leader? To say that this is a very complex question that defies a simple answer is an understatement in the extreme.
In conducting research for the Prague Leadership Institute, I read a variety of papers, articles and books and talk to leaders from around the world to keep abreast of the changing world of leadership on a global basis.
Never before in human history have we acknowledged, admired, and rewarded cognitive intelligence (IQ) as we did in the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st.
That is about to change—Big Time.
Let me begin by apologizing for the use of a profanity in this column, but I must admit that in this specific context it is more expressive than any other word in the English language for describing a certain kind of boss or co-worker that everyone can relate to. I’m of course talking about someone who is known to his or her colleagues for their singular, and quite effective, ability to poison any environment they enter by their nasty, demeaning, obnoxious, embarrassing abuse of authority or power (sometimes even physical power) as an asshole.
The short answer to this question is no.
To understand why this is good news for you and your followers, please read on.
I am a self-confessed leadership nerd. I have been absolutely fascinated by the topic of leadership since I was a young boy and have devoted my professional career to studying leaders and trying to understand how people become leaders.
As a CEO, picture your next year-end Board of Directors Meeting. You walk in, sit down, and deliver the following message: “Ladies and gentlemen of the Board, today I’d like to share some performance results with you.
In 1799, a French Lieutenant in Napoleon’s army uncovered an ancient Egyptian artifact in the port city of Rashid (known as Rosetta today), Egypt. It was a discovery—celebrated with great enthusiasm—that would unlock the centuries-old mystery of how to decipher ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics. Since then, the Rosetta Stone has become a metaphor for any discovery that unlocks, deciphers, or explains something of great value that had been previously difficult, if not impossible, to understand.
Just such a discovery has been made by social scientists regarding leadership.
Whether you are a leader of a small team or the CEO of a big company or even if the only one you’re leading is you, an elevator speech is undoubtedly one of the most powerful tools in any leader’s tool kit.
As someone who has made a life’s work of studying leaders, I guess you could say I also have an interest in studying power and status—especially how the acquisition of power and status can change people.
“This group can do more. They need to do more! I don’t know what’s wrong with them. I take them on off-site meetings and have dinners for them, but they just don’t get it—they’re not motivated. I’m already spending a fortune on these ‘feel good’ things. What do I have to do now? Get somebody from HR in here! They better have some ideas!”
The most common reaction I get from leaders when I ask this question is a blank stare. Perhaps the reason for this reaction is that they realize that the answer they give will summarize, in a sentence, who they are, what type of leader they are, and how in tune they are to the 21st century.