I was inspired this morning after reading a great leadership article in HBR - an article that described well the difference between high achievers and real leaders. In the twilight of my own leadership career I felt it appropriate to share some lessons as they relate well to the HBR article. Anyone who aspires to become an effective leader of others needs to read this blog post.
First, some excerpts from the HBR article are worth mentioning. The article includedthis very powerful statement – “But there is a difference between those superstar achievers that can make the leap to CEO and those that will implode: To what degree do they feel invigorated by the success and talent of others, and to what degree does the success of others cause an involuntary pinch of insecurity about their own personal inadequacies? Only an individual who feels genuinely invigorated by the growth, development, and success of others can become an effective leader of an enterprise. And it remains the most common obstacle of success for those trying to make that leap.”
Essentially, according to this article the difference between just a great high achiever and a real leader is on whom does the leader focus his/her performance development attention – his/her colleagues or himself/herself? For someone to excel at a CEO level, the focus has to be on the development of the organization and the people within – not on the individual leader. After all, the organization is comprised of many resources and people, and it is the collective skill and energy of these resources that will make or break an organization – and not how good the leader is at his/her trade.
I must admit early in my career I acted more like a high achiever than a leader. Certainly the larger the organization you lead the more opportunity you have to be an effective leader vs. a terrific individual contributor or a small team manager. Later in my career I was fortunate to have worked for a mentor who was the epitome of a leader. His focus was on my success and my development, not his personal effectiveness. Sometimes he would coach me and sometimes he’d actually tell me he was doing what he was doing or he was telling me to do something because he wanted to see me develop my skills, become more effective at what I do and become a better leader myself. Sure, he had an ego but he managed it well and it never got in the way of his focus on me.
The HBR article went on to compare an individual’s narcsisstic tendencies (it’s all about me and my self-promotion) and genuine leadership skills (it’s all about making you better), and provides some questions people can ask themselves or others to determine if an individual has leadership potential or is more of a high achiever. Here is another excerpt from the article…
“Keeping an eye on the high achiever’s relationships and self-promotion certainlyhelps to see if your candidate is a narcissist. The Narcissistic Personality Inventory also has several questions that suggest how to further clarify an individual’s level of narcissism, including:
- Are the individual’s relationships with others based on honest, intimate exchanges, or are they formed using a dynamic that regularly reinforces the narcissist’s role as a “hero”?
- Does the individual often talk about how his star qualities make him distinct from his peers?
- Does he like to be the center of attention?
- Does the remark, “I insist on getting the respect that is due me,” resonate with his worldview?
Personally I can’t by any stretch of the imagination suggest I am a great leader. However, as my career has matured and I’ve had the opportunity to lead others, I’ve learned to invest far more time on the success and development of those around me. I’ve been able to develop a level of confidence in myself that enables me to focus on the promotion of others vs. my own self promotion. I’ve realized that my personal success and the success of our company depends on the growth and success of our people – and that’s where my energies have to be focused.
My employees are an extension of my family. As a father I want my two daughters to grow up to be exceptional people and to make a difference in the lives of their children and in the lives of others around them. In the same way I want our employees to be exceptional at what they do and make a difference in the lives of our customers and each other. I can’t do that if my energies are devoted to making me better at what I do. As an effective leader, I must devote my energies to the development of my real family and my extended family - the people that make up WebStrategies.