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What Leadership is NOT By David Lykken

APRIL 2012 



Never has there been a time when we as Americans have been more confused about what makes for good leadership. Why is this? For years, we seemed to intuitively recognize good leadership when we saw it … so what has changed? Why the confusion? I used to think that it might be the result of a leadership deficit in our nation. However, more recently, I suspect the problem to be centered on the great ideological divide within our nation. There are “leaders” who believe that big government is a solution. Others, like me, believe less government involvement is the solution. As we ponder the question about leadership, I believe the bigger question is: “What is the right direction for our country … more government or less government?” Once that issue is decided, then I believe there will be less confusion when discussing the topic of leadership. The leader of the “bigger government” ideology is going to have a completely different style than a leader who believes in “smaller government.” For all practical purposes, we are a two-party political system. The Democratic Party seems more intent on more government involvement in every aspect of our lives and industry, where as the Republican Party seems to subscribe to less government involvement. As we prepare to go to the polls this coming November to decide the ideological direction for our country, the question becomes: “Who now is the best leader?” One thing seems certain as we face an uncertain world with serious financial problems … we must recognize what makes a great leader. As many of you know who have read my column each month throughout 2011, I have been writing extensively on the topic of leadership. In this article, I want to take a different approach. I am going to write about what leadership is NOT. But before I do, here is a brief summary of the 7-Cs (Characteristics) found in a great leader that I wrote about last year. They were as follows: 1. Character, which I described as that which make up who we really are— our inner person or what makes up our “core.” It’s what drives our every decision, and in many ways, defines who we are—good or bad. It is the

“cornerstone” in the foundation of every leader. 2. Conviction is what you have that guides your every move and causes you to not lose your direction. It is that inner compass that keeps leaders on course with what they believe is the right direction in spite of opposing opinions. 3. Confidence is the hallmark of a strong leader, and works hand-inhand with conviction and character. A leader must have an unwavering confidence in their convictions. Character clearly establishes “true North” on a leader’s compass. 4. Charisma is embodied in most great leaders. They exude genuine selfless magnetic warmth and have an amazing ability to relate to others. 5. Clarity of purpose and direction is the next essential component of every great leader. This is particularly critical and important when confusion surrounds the various options. 6. Communication of all the above is so critical. I used the example of Ronald Regan as someone who was very effective at communicating to a broad and diverse audience. Even his greatest critics admired his ability to effectively communicate. 7. Compassion while leading, especially in difficult circumstances, is a powerful component of any great leader. And several readers wrote me suggesting more “Cs,” all of which were great. If you’re interested in reading any of those articles, I would encourage you to visit and search “David Lykken” for my archived articles. So if the above 7-Cs describe what a good leader is, what are some of the things that a leader is NOT? Here are some that come to mind immediately. As you read this list, please write down your ideas of what a leader is and is not. Then e-mail your list to me and I will include them and your name in

future articles. So let’s start with the following list of what a leader is NOT”

ally destructive to an organization. An out-of-control ego is like a cancer that must be cut out of an organization if it is to sur1. Leadership is NOT vive. Fear is the common about a position denominator amongst egoThe position or role that centric “leaders.” While fear someone has does not, in can be an effective motivaand of itself, make a person tor, it doesn’t result in a of leader. I know that may healthy organization, espeseem like an “oh duh” obvicially if the fear is generated ous kind of statement, but from within an organiza“One thing seems you’d be surprised how certain as we face an tion’s leadership. I particumany people consider uncertain world with larly like Diana Black’s someone a leader just quote, “Big egos are big serious financial because they hold a title or a problems … we must shields for lots of empty position of leadership. Let’s recognize what makes space.” The very definition get this foundational cornerof “egocentric” drives home a great leader stone in place … leader is the point, “Thinking only of not WHAT you are in terms of position … a one’s self, without regard for the feelings or leader is WHO you are internally. desires of others; self-centered.” True leadSome of you reading this article may ers are self-less not self-centered. know exactly what I’m talking about. You may be working for someone or have 3. Leadership is NOT a popularity worked for someone who has/had a contest position of leadership, but has miserably True leadership, especially in difficult failed to lead you and/or the rest of the times, rarely results in someone being organization. popular with the majority. Yet more and Another example is that most would more “leaders” in our country desire to agree that President Obama arguably “lead” by consensus than conviction? How holds the number one leadership position many political “leaders” do you know that in the world. How many would argue that formulate their “leadership” positions he has failed as a leader especially when it based on polling data? While a case could comes to leading our country out of the be made that an elected official voting on economic challenges facing our country? an important issue should attempt to gain When evaluating a leader, consider this insights via polling data as to their elec… it is rarely the good times that define a torate’s preferences, consensus-building good leader. It is typically the difficult within a company is not how good leadertimes that determine whether or not a ship works. Far too many company leaders leader is good or bad. How many industry manage their business by consensus rather “leaders” do you know who have held the than conviction. There is nothing wrong position of the chairman of the board, with getting consensus per se, but in the chief executive officer, president, chief end, a good leader must lead by their own financial officer, chief operating officer or convictions. A good leader is a consensus general manager who has failed in their builder … NOT a consensus follower. position and role as a “leader.” In terms of titles, they may be in the role of a leader, 4. Leadership is NOT a “birthright” but functionally, they are not. While “the Leadership should be viewed as a privilege clothes make the man,” a position does not earned by successfully overcoming difficult make a leader. circumstances and not the right of someone just putting in time. It’s sad when you 2. Leadership is NOT an ego trip hear someone say, “I deserved that proThe comedian Billy Crystal, when speak- motion to leadership because I’ve been ing to a group of business executives, here longer than that person.” When said, “Gentlemen, start your egos.” someone’s ascension to a position of leadWhile I have never met a good leader ership becomes more about seniority than that does not have a healthy ego, I also qualifications, then an organization is never met an effective leader who had an doomed to mediocrity, and eventually, oversized ego. When someone’s ego gets failure. Just because someone has occuout of hand and they go on a power trip, it pied space in an organization longer than can be extremely demoralizing and eventu- someone else is no reason to promote



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