As an executive coach and organization development consultant, my work revolves around understanding, practicing, and teaching leadership. Many of my clients struggle to understand how they can further their careers through more effective leadership.
By the time they get to me, they have often graduated from the Tony Robbins School of “Get What You Want in Ten Easy Steps” at the Steven Covey University of “Seven Habits of People Who Aren’t You and Had Radically Different Opportunities”.
They have suffered a career setback, step down, or even lost a job entirely. They are frustrated that their efforts do not seem to influence their outcomes. They are confused and lost because they don’t feel fulfilled or happy. They assume that they are incapable of learning to be leaders.
Leadership is not a skill to be learned. You do not read a book, memorize the process, and then inflict leadership upon the people around you. The modern leadership industrial complex churns out books and programs every year encouraging those in positions of authority to become the best leader by engaging in transformational leadership, intentional leadership, emotionally intelligent leadership, or creative leadership. Leadership is the ability to engage others to help achieve goals. It is a process of self-awareness, deep understanding, and the ability to relate that understanding to others in a way that forms a bond of trust and respect. A successful leader is authentic.
Some of the best examples of effective leadership are men and women who have refused to be anything other than who they are. Elon Musk, Oprah Winfrey, Steve Jobs, Margret Thatcher, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Richard Branson, Michael Jordan, and Barack Obama, just to name a few, have all opposed the limitations people set in front of them, and achieved staggering outcomes. They have also been criticized for being demanding, harsh, uncompromising, doggedly persistent, and even narcissistic.
My belief is that these leaders are successful because of these traits, not in spite of them.
Many of the most effective leaders I work with have been tortured to success by the pieces of their innermost selves that they hate.
The things they are most ashamed of become their motivation to dream of the impossible. This shame also inspires them to create a persona of success and invincibility in order to distract from their own insecurity. This persona often inspires those around them to share in their great vision.
The existing leadership complex does not embrace the idea that negative characteristics can contribute to leadership success. I believe that for leadership development initiatives to have lasting success, they must appreciate that every leadership attribute has a part to play in the process of achieving organizational goals.
**Erika Weed is a doctoral candidate at The George Washington University, studying leadership and trying to reconcile the seemingly competing goals of happiness and success, for herself and others.