If you’ve been told or believe you can’t become an exceptional leader, and would like to get insight on how to achieve this, then this article is for you.
The book The Extraordinary Leader: Turning Good Managers into Great Leaders provides an inspirational view on leadership based on facts and research – not unnecessarily complex theories, models, and boring anecdotes. In fact, the revelations in this book are based on research data gathered on over 25,000 leaders from more than 200,000 questionnaires.
After reading this book, or even this article, you’ll be inspired and also questioning yourself and your career. But I believe that’s precisely what we need to effectively move forward in life.
A leader, defined
“People frequently confuse personality traits for leadership. They assume that assertiveness, or the ability to make a compelling speech or giving people crisp orders, is leadership. It is not.”
This is a very powerful statement. I think most of us have this preconceived vision of a good leader. We see it in movies, we read it in books, and we even hear it in the workplace. When I read this, all I could envision is this tall man giving a speech in a conference room, speaking loudly with such confidence that it is arrogance; just a tad more and the character starts hitting the podium stand to induce reaction in the crowd. This social preconception can also have serious consequences in our individual lives. Growing up as a shy and quiet person, no one in the world would have encouraged me in becoming a leader. The common reaction would probably be: “don’t worry, we’re not all born to be leaders”. But I’m not a follower. I’ve always done it my way, even if it’s not necessarily the best way. Now we have evidence, proof, that this is false. You’re not born a leader, you become one; through experience, belief, effort, learning, and continuous improvement. You need to constantly observe and integrate. Perhaps we’re not all made to be the extraordinary leader, but we can certainly be great leaders. So here it is – I encourage all of you who aspire to becoming great leaders to believe in yourself and work towards that goal. Don’t let go of that dream – keep moving on and reach for your goals. It’ll certainly be a whole lot of work, but it’s achievable.
The authors discuss throughout the book the concept of halo effect – people form impressions of others based on a “big picture” rather than by focusing on individual traits. Although I’m familiar with this concept, it’s the first time that I extensively think of it in the context of leadership. This raises the point that you may be extremely strong in multiple areas, but if you fail in those that your peers or superiors find critical, then you will most likely be perceived as having lesser overall strengths. This may be related to your skills or even simply to facial expressions. If you talk to people that know me for instance, one thing they’re sure to comment about is that I don’t smile a lot. I have this serious looking face that may give the impression that I’m not easily approachable or even that I’m seriously unhappy – just look at my blog picture. But in reality none of the above is true. I realized that this affects how people perceive me and probably has impact in my career. That’s why I’m working to improve this – not to put a permanent fake smile on my face, but simply to show varying expressions rather than the unique grumpy image that I may portray.
Additional research results the authors present (from a study conducted by a different group) illustrate how people commonly group traits together; meaning that if you’re known to have a specific trait in one category, people will assume you have the other traits in that same category:
- Bad social (e.g., unpopular, unsociable, boring, cold, moody, dishonest)
- Good social (e.g., honest, happy, popular, reliable, modest, warm)
- Bad intellectual (e.g., foolish, unintelligent, clumsy, wasteful, irresponsible)
- Good intellectual (e.g., scientific, persistent, skillful, imaginative, intelligent)
So if people perceive me as being unsociable and clumsy for instance, they will most likely see me as also being boring, dishonest, unintelligent, and wasteful. Food for thought, isn’t it?
In relation to this, the authors present the concept of cross-training. Learning new skills will actually help you become better in other areas without having to directly focus on these other capabilities. This is a great motivation to improve ourselves in fewer areas at a time. Even though we may be focusing on improving one skill, say communication, this will have direct impact in how we perform in other tasks and disciplines. So in essence, the more we learn and self-develop, the better we get across the board. Based on my understanding, one of the ultimate objectives is becoming exceptional in at least two areas and eliminating any fatal flaws that you may have – eliminating your fatal flaws is critical. In that regards, here’s an interesting quote from the book:
“Being horrible at a competency gets noticed; being extraordinarily good gets noticed; but being average or good at something does not.”
The true leader in you
Understanding yourself, your unique strengths and weaknesses, and identifying your passions is a prevalent theme that most of us have probably heard before. What’s interesting here though is that the authors provide evidence of this importance and go further by explaining that there needs to be an intersection between competency, organizational needs, and passion for you to become an exceptional leader. You have to discover what your true competencies are and they have to fit with your organization’s needs. Your unique set of skills should be a strong asset to the company. In addition, being passionate about what you’re accomplishing will help you go further and become better.
Think. What do I really like; What am I really good in; What do I want to accomplish; With that being said, do I really fit in my current organization? The authors provide an example where a fresh graduate, that was brilliant in school, got hired by a consulting firm. After 6 months he was out with a severance package. He didn’t fit. A bit later he found a managerial position in a hospital and has quickly succeeded in his new role. He possessed the skills required by the organization, there was a good fit, and he was passionate about his position.
“the secret to life is discovering what “instrument” you are, and then learning how to play it.”
This article certainly doesn’t pay justice to the book – it’s an extraordinary book with a wealth of information. I was truly inspired and immediately started reflecting on the book’s core message. You can become an extraordinary leader by eliminating your fatal flaws and by developing exceptional skills in the 5 pillars of leadership: character, focus on results, interpersonal skills, leading organizational change, and personal capability. What’s interesting is that you don’t need to be exceptional in all areas to be perceived as an extraordinary leader. So long as you have the right balance of strengths and have managed to correct your fatal flaws, as perceived by yourself, your peers, and your organization.
To conclude, I guarantee you will be inspired, but at the same time also be prepared to be confused or discouraged. The revelations will surely have you question yourself, your job, your organization, and what you want to achieve in life. If you manage to constructively integrate this knowledge, you’re up for positive change – that’s my opinion.