Time to overhaul our definition of leadership
Professor McGonagle. Woody. Yoda.
A witch, a cowboy and an alien – three of fiction’s most fabled characters. They might have just two things in common: they all sport some unusual outfits, and they’re all exceptional leaders.
None of them, however, match what might be considered the leader’s archetype. So-called “extroversion” is often deemed key to one’s ability to communicate, make rapid decisions and empower teams. But all of these characters showcase the value of a more nuanced approach to the question: “What makes a good leader?”.
Traits & boxes
With a natural tendency to try and organise, we like definitions that put people into boxes. This is why the terms “introvert” and “extrovert” hold such appeal. You’ve probably come across them, been so categorised yourself or have even put others into such boxes.
But we need a change of leadership language! It’s projected that 25% of CEOs’ tasks can (and, soon, most likely will) be automated. Hiring managers will need to consider a broader range of factors – namely soft skills – when choosing their next leaders.
This isn’t to say that so-called extroverts can’t lead. We just need to consider the potential of those who may differ from our archetypes. Ultimately, decisions should be based on the traits that make good leaders. Not the labels.
We’ve picked out three such traits, based on our work on leadership profiles with a range of enterprise clients:
Leaders with the right balance of curiosity are more open to new lessons, experiences and opinions. Whether these are about work, people or the wider world, leaders’ curiosity can create new avenues to problem-solving.
Some will think of innovators as the “introvert” to the leader’s “extrovert” – withdrawn developers or tinkering, lab-bound engineers. When it comes to leadership, however, we’re talking about a different kind of innovation – that of processes, rather than products.
Research from data firm IDC has found that 20-30% of revenue is lost to bad processes alone. This has increased the stock of those able to identify these and innovate accordingly.
The problem with leadership tropes is that people often mould their behaviour to fit them. This can impact authenticity, which has direct links to trust. If people think you’re not being yourself, you’ll struggle to build the rapport necessary to lead and execute.
Again, this is a spectrum. Being ‘yourself’ doesn’t justify what are called your “bad day behaviours”. Instead, it means being self-aware about your own faults and abilities, and how these impact your team.
Leading your way
There are obviously a host of further traits that make a great leader – too many to discuss in this short post! Leadership is subjective and often relies on context – your personnel, culture and industry.
What’s clear is that, as hard skills become more of an expectation for leadership positions, we’ll need new ways to assess the soft skills that set great leaders apart.
So, for our leadership hires, let’s think more McGonagle, more Woody or more Yoda. Leave the archetypes to the movies.