Organizations Must Stop Looking For Perfect Leaders

Or…….How to Care for a Three Legged Dog

Do a Web search for ideal leader and you will get a treasure trove of results including Five Must Have Qualities of the Modern Manager,  Fifteen Qualities a Manager Should Have, Top Ten Qualities of An Excellent Manager, or 25 Qualities and Characteristics of a Good Manager.  While all well written, articles like these reflect our belief about leaders and create unrealistic expectations.

There is No Such Thing as An Ideal Leader/Manager 

Those of you in positions of hiring must come to grips with this and shift both your thinking as well as your expectations.  The reason why the ideal leader is nonexistent is due to the nature of change; change is constant and change creates challenges.  Change means that a revolving array of leadership roles, skills, and functions are required at any given time.  Take a Mount Everest expedition for example.  Someone on the team is usually best at planning the expedition, another at determining and procuring the proper equipment, another at keeping the group moving through difficult conditions and circumstances, and yet another at maintaining morale and teamwork.  Different individuals are required to step up and take charge, at least temporarily, at different junctures in the journey.   No one leader can consistently do all of these things extremely well.  Why?  Because the traits required for these functions are inherently inconsistent with one another.  A driven, dominating style of individual is not simultaneously warm and sensitive.  An extroverted, entrepreneurial type is usually not going to be an analytical perfectionist.  And the integrative, team-oriented person is not often adept at driving the group toward the ultimate goal.

Why You Must Shift Your Expectations? 

Unrealistic expectations of the ideal leader not only sets up certain failure, but creates a hierarchical, unidirectional, elitist management approach that does not fit with the very type of culture most organizations desire.  If the goal is to create an atmosphere that exhibits inclusion, partnership, cooperation, input, the upward flow of information, and teamwork then it seems obvious that the culture, from top to bottom, must facilitate this.

What Is The Nest Step?

The first step in fixing the damage done within the “ideal leader syndrome” is to revisit your vision of the type of organization you want.  In all honesty, most organizations have not given this much thought beyond lip service.  We say we want inclusion, but we have not prepared a foundation with the type of leadership that can facilitate this.

The second, and equally important step, is to examine what the organization needs.  Much like people, organizations experience life-cycles and are at different places at different times and thus, require leaders to fulfill different roles.  Each role is best fulfilled by an individual or set of individuals with corresponding traits.  For example, we have found that there are four functions/roles that need to be performed for organizations to remain healthy, and healthy organizations are those that possess key individuals with the following traits who also have an active voice:

Producers answer the question:  what should be done?  This individual produces results and satisfies what service or product people need

Entrepreneurs answer the questions:  by when/why it should be done?  What is the purpose?  This individual is a visionary who can foresee the direction the organization is going to take, someone who can be proactive and will meet the needs of future clients

Administrators answer the question:   how should it be done?  This individual sees to it that the organizational processes are systematized, that the organization does the right things, in the right sequence with the right intensity

Integrators answer the question:  who should do it?  This person builds a climate and a system of values that will motivate the individuals in the organization to work together so that all are valued and no one is indispensable

This doesn’t mean that some leaders will not possess some minimal proficiency in several areas, but the leader who can do everything well is absolutely non-existent.  Thus, a constantly changing business environment requires a diverse executive team/command staff that engages in fluid dialogue and healthy debate, and a team whereby various team members are encouraged to step up and take over certain functional requirements as necessary.

In the neighborhood of my youth—and prior to leash laws— lived a friendly pack of free-roaming dogs. Largely mutts, this rag-tag group led the most amusing, unsettled, irresponsible, and disreputable life.  Most of our neighbors had a dog in the pack.  So did we; his name was Fred, and he had three legs.  Some of the dogs were fast, some were slow, and some were more athletic.  It was easy to see that none were perfect, but they each had certain strengths.   Our Fred could not keep up very well, and he couldn’t jump the neighbor’s fence to get at the cat, but he seemed to have intelligence about his condition.  We never saw him hang out with just one or two other dogs.  He only left our yard when the gang was gathered.  It was as if he knew there were strengths in numbers, as if one or two other dogs were not enough to compensate for what was missing.  He seemed to know how to take care of himself.

The Third Step is to Identify the Characteristics of Members of the Leadership Team

There are a variety of predictive assessments on the market today, all of which can identify the traits and thus the role where your leader is most likely to be most effective.  Take the DISC assessment for example, the Producer role is most likely to be filled by the Dominant (D style) personality.  The Entrepreneurial role is most effectively filled by the Influential (I style) personality.  The Integrator role is ideally demonstrated by the Steady (S style) personality, and the Administrator role is nicely enacted through the traits and qualities possessed by the Conventional (C style) personality.

Does your leadership team reflect a diversity of strengths?

A Diverse Leadership Team

Successful organizations have taught us that change requires a diverse leadership team.  The archetype of the charismatic leader who charges up the hill, oblivious to dangers, has become something of a relic.  People are less likely to follow the old-style leader who doesn’t want to communicate about purpose or who doesn’t give thought to who is the best fit for a particular task, or who doesn’t believe in inclusion, partnership, cooperation, input, the upward flow of information, and teamwork.  While this type of leader may yet exist, organizations are discovering that succession after their death or retirement is extremely difficult.  There is no mentoring or coaching under this type of leader.  The skills and abilities of others are not developed.

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