Wednesday, September 24, 2014

September 24

In her recent post, Rovaida Kazmion (a connection of mine in LinkedIn) quoted Jim Rohn as having said: "the challenge of leadership is to be strong, but not rude; be kind, but not weak; be bold, but not bully; be thoughtful, but not lazy; be humble, but not timid; be proud, but not arrogant; have humor, but without folly."

It's great to have leaders who display attributes like strength, kindness, boldness, thoughtfulness, and humility, while holding in check attributes like rudeness, weakness, and bullying. I know that, with all other things equal, I would much prefer to follow "nice leaders" than I would "mean leaders." However, regardless of my preferences, it seems that over the past 50 years, many (dare I say, most) writings on leadership have emphasized the desired attributes, similar to those listed; to the point where some people have actually accepted these types of desired attributes as necessary to include in their collective definition of leadership. One of the problems with this includes that most of the people I've interviewed have suggested that as much as they would like to have leaders who display these desired attributes, if forced to make a choice, they would rather have mean leaders who effectively lead them to their desired destinations, than they would nice leaders who might lead them astray. Additionally, another potential problem emerges, in that, based on differences in experience and values, what some people perceive as displays of desired attributes, other people might perceive as displays of undesired attributes. For example, what might seem like strength or boldness to some people, might appear like bullying or arrogance (respectively) to others.

Furthermore, I propose that these desired attributes actually represent the challenges of humanity, rather than merely the challenges of leadership. Even if we could collectively agree on what behaviors represent desired and undesired attributes, in every context; most people desire for everyone with whom they interact to display strength, kindness, humility, thoughtfulness, and similar behaviors, rather than rudeness, weakness, bullying, etc. And I would further suggest that people don't desire these from their leaders any more than they desire them from their followers or their peers, regardless of rank or station. Bottom line: evaluating leaders based on the standards that we expect of all people might indicate how those leaders measure up as human beings, but it won't necessarily indicate how they measure up as leaders.