All great leadership teams have several things in common. You might not see them from outside, but when you work with them on a regular basis these commonalities become very clear. There are many leadership myths we accept because they make sense, but, in reality, fail to help build an extraordinary organization. Today, I share three leadership myths that can stop your business in its tracks if you believe them.
The first leadership myth is every great organization has one great leader. This makes sense from the outside. Once you’re inside, it becomes very clear that several people are working together on a shared vision to create extraordinary results. A strong individual can create a multimillion dollar business, but once you go beyond $10 million in annual sales, it takes a team of individuals with complementary strengths to take your organization to the next level. The best leaders I’ve worked with are very good at building dynamic partnerships with different members of their teams. Warren Buffett’s partnership with Charlie Munger is different than his relationships with the other CEOs in the Berkshire Hathaway family. The most interesting fact to me is not that Warren is so flexible, but in how he gets his different organizations to embrace and exploit their own unique strengths and capabilities in their markets.
The second leadership myth is that there is only one way to lead. Many CEOs I work with struggle to help their direct reports develop their own unique leadership style. When I worked at the Department of Defense, I was surprised at the different leadership styles that emerged in the different branches of the military service. Their cultures and responsibilities created different styles of leadership. As I worked with the many different organizations, I discovered that successful leaders learned to help their key team members develop their own leadership style. To get the most out of these different ways of seeing the world, the senior leader needed to be willing to tolerate a higher level of ambiguity than might be found on leadership teams in corporate America.
The third leadership myth is that great leaders are capable of working in any business culture or time. Many great leaders over the past 50 years have had such a unique set of leadership capabilities; they would have struggled in almost any other time in world history. I think of President Truman, who did more to shape the world than any other modern President. His low key way of getting things accomplished did not serve him well in his time in business, but stand the test of time when you look how he handled his Presidential duties after World War Two. I have several close friends who shared inside stories of how he managed what could have been an explosive time with both candor, vision and emotional intelligence. The question I often ask my historian friends is where President Truman got his inner strength. It certainly had not surfaced in any of his pre-presidential roles and responsibilities. I believe than his family and support structures helped him deal with many of history’s biggest challenges. Many leaders fail today because they do not have a support systems and families that can help them during changing and stressful times.
My one last, bonus leadership myth is that serious leaders are serious. Many of the leaders I know are extremely serious and that’s all they are. If scowls made a great leader, they would be at the top of their class. Humor is the secret weapon of great leaders. The myth is you must always be serious if you want to lead. I’ve discovered with many of my clients their ability to bring humor into any give situation is why they are successful. I think of Sam Walton with his grass skirt on Wall Street which brought tears of laughter to the eyes of even the most cynical stock trader. Richard Branson doing his version of the Full Monty reminds us that we can do far better by taking ourselves less seriously.
Next week, we share several ideas to help you be a better manager to your direct reports. In a world full of leaders, it’s the managers who are in charge of getting things done. I’ll share several ideas that can help you engage and empower your people for extraordinary results. See you next week.