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Looking for Leaders in All the Wrong Places

All the Wrong Places

RECENTLY SOMEONE WAS LAMENTING to me the lack of new leaders in their organization. I replied that perhaps they weren’t really looking for leaders. Maybe they were looking for leaders in all the wrong places. We commonly look for what looks like leadership. We look for people who stand out (self-promoters). We look for clones (people who are just like us). We look for the smartest person in the room (technically competent). We look for people who did a good job for us (promote as a reward). Sometimes we get lucky—often we don’t.

Ram Charan begins his book, Know-How, with, “What gets in the way of finding people who can perform is the appearance of leadership. All too often I see people being chosen for leadership jobs on the basis of superficial personal traits and characteristics.” He lists some of the trappings that are often mistaken for leadership:
The seduction of raw intelligence: “He’s extremely bright, incisive, and very analytical. I just feel in my gut he can do the job.”
A commanding presence and great communication skills: “That presentation was awesome. How she ever boiled down all that data onto the PowerPoints is beyond me. She certainly had the committee in the palm of her hand. Mark my words, she’s going to the top.”
The power of a bold vision: “What a picture he painted of where we are going, moving forward.”
The notion of a born leader: “The people in the unit love her. Such a morale builder and motivator!”
As Charan points out, these attributes are just a small piece of the leadership pie. We need to look deeper.

While there may be a shortage of leaders, “there is no shortage of people with the capacity for leadership” as Bill George points out in True North.  “The problem is that we have a wrongheaded notion of what constitutes a leader, driven by an obsession with leaders at the top. That misguided standard often results in the wrong people attaining critical leadership roles. … We frequently choose leaders for their charisma instead of their character, their style rather than substance, and their image instead of integrity.”

He adds, “There are leaders throughout organizations, just waiting for opportunities to lead. In too many organizations, however, people do not feel empowered to lead, nor are they rewarded for doing so.”

There is obviously a problem in the way that we approach leadership development. We are taking the path of least resistance. To put the right people in the right jobs and encourage their leadership potential, we must get to know them to see those things that really count. Our preconceived ideas of what a leader is, is just the thing that is getting in our way of finding great leaders. Our beliefs can set us up for selecting leaders that are dysfunctional.

Lists of leadership traits and characteristics can help to educate us, but leadership radiates from who we are. Leadership traits and characteristics are just part of the mix that defines who we really are—our character and attitudes. What else could we be doing to find true leaders?

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 10:01 AM
| Comments (0) | This post is about Books , Leadership Development



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