The difference between an incomplete leader and an incompetent one


Wizard-of-OzThe myth of the superhero leader, a person of unlimited ability, charisma, and strength persists. Indeed, throughout all of history we have forced the illusion of the larger than life figure who is faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, and able to leap tall buildings at a single bound.

Without doubt extraordinary leaders are people of exceptional competence but they do not rely on the image of flawless perfection nor do they allow their subordinates and associates to perpetuate that myth.

Some people seem to think that they must appear to be capable of every demand made upon them. It is an unfortunate and unsustainable reliance on image. They are typically emotionally insecure individuals who are afraid that their power and authority would somehow disappear if others were to know that they can’t really do everything.

Others are narcissists who are in love with their own image and perceive themselves inaccurately, emperors without clothes, as it were. Their massive self-esteem is rooted in the illusion that they are more competent than they are.

No one as complete as they would like to be. Many are not as complete as they think they are.

I’ve been writing for several months about the qualities of the superlative leader but I cannot sum up the series without qualifying the idea some may get that superlative leaders possess all 18 qualities or that to be truly exceptional one must be flawless.

But great men and women often possess great flaws.

So what?

Their strengths far outweigh their weaknesses because their competence as leaders simply overwhelms. And that brings me to the point today. There is a difference between being incomplete and being incompetent.

Incomplete leaders are humble enough to recognize…and accept…their weaknesses. Here’s the key – because they can see and accept their flaws and weaknesses, they search for others who possess the skills, competencies, and capabilities they do not. Then they employ them to build a leadership and executive team that is complete.

Incompetent leaders do not. Their flaws, because they remain unacknowledged and unattended, eventually overcome them and overwhelm their ability to lead. Why? Because of the wizard syndrome.

What, you ask, is the wizard syndrome?

Most of my readers will be familiar with the 1939 blockbuster movie “The Wizard of Oz.” Dorothy and her dog Toto find themselves ion Munchkin land desperately wanting to get back to Kansas. In the company of a Tin Man (who lacked a heart), a Lion (who lacked courage), and a Scarecrow (who lacked a brain – intelligence), they follow the yellow brick road to the city of Oz wherein dwells the Wizard, a being of incomprehensible power and knowledge. They overcome many obstacles to get to the Wizard because they believe that he can do what no one else can.

Once there, they find the Wizard unapproachable and unwilling to help. In his terrifying presence they cower and lose hope until Toto pulls back the curtain to reveal that the Wizard is no wizard at all. He is a mere man, a human who has built the image of supreme ability and unapproachable strength.

When you encounter a person who doesn’t let anyone know who they really are, who insists on projecting an image, who refuses to acknowledge that they are anything other than the magnificence they appear to be, they are using the wizard syndrome to build and maintain their power.

The problem comes when failures begin to pile up. One can forgive and compensate for the flaws of a humble person. We are less inclined to do so for the failures of those who insist on perpetuating the illusion of flawlessness.

Incomplete leaders know and accept the limitations of their reach so they find others who will enable them to reach farther. Incompetent leaders become angry and belligerent at the suggestion that their reach is somehow someway inadequate.

Incomplete leaders know and accept that they cannot know everything or understand all there is to understand so they gather around them voices that finish the story and complete the picture…and they listen to them. Incompetent leaders simply refuse to acknowledge that anyone else could possibly tell them anything they don’t know already.

Incomplete leaders have patience with others because they understand human nature and human frailties. Incompetent leaders consider themselves to be super-human and expect everyone else to be the same. They tolerate no failings in others which does two things. It promotes deceit and hiding as others cover up their actions lest Mr. Wizard find out. Second, it drives away capable people who simply will not tolerate the double-standard. The result is to attract second-rate people, lackeys and sycophants who tell Mr. Wizard what he wants to hear and promote the illusion Wizard lives under and wants.

So, we strive for excellence and live with failure. We grow into greater measures of ability and learn from our mistakes. We appreciate our innate and cultivated capacities and encourage those of others. We may be incomplete but then, none of us are finished with living yet.

As young leaders we admire and gravitate to the wizards we think will take us where we long to go. It’s only after the illusion dissolves in the cold light of reality do we realize that the heart, courage, and intelligence we long to possess is found in those who travel with us. We ultimately realize that exceptionalism is not so much a destiny as it is the journey.



The quality of confidence – lessons from Flight 1549


confidenceChesley Burnett Sullenberger, was born January 23, 1951 in Dennison, Texas, to a dentist father and an elementary school teacher mother. An exceptional student with a brilliant mind, he joined Mensa at the age of 12.

After graduating from high school, he entered the US Air Force Academy. Already a competent pilot, he was selected to be a flight instructor by the end of his first year. After a career in the Air Force, he became a commercial pilot for U.S. Airways and its predecessors. Logging more than 20,000 hours flying time, his proven competence yielded a high level of confidence in himself, and a confidence in him by those who flew in his flight crews.

All went reasonably well until January 15, 2009. In command of an Airbus A320 leaving New York’s La Guardia for Charlotte, North Carolina, Flight #1549 hit a flock of birds shortly after take-off. Losing power in both engines it quickly became apparent that a return to La Guardia or a diverted landing to Teterboro Airport in New Jersey was not feasible. Informing the passenger to brace for landing, Captain Sulley flew the Airbus to a water landing in the Hudson River. All passengers and crew survived.

Listening to the flight recording (below) is a graphic example of cool confidence under dire circumstances.


Confidence is the ability to take the information you have right now, make a decision, and take action. Indeed, that perfectly summarizes leadership itself – understand what’s what, know what to do next, then do it.

It comes as the result of self-awareness and experience. In an interview with news anchor Katie Couric, Captain Sulley said, “One way of looking at this might be that for 42 years, I’ve been making small, regular deposits in this bank of experience, education and training. And on January 15 the balance was sufficient so that I could make a very large withdrawal.”

When you have self-confidence, it will manifest itself in the speed and certainty of your decisions. Tentativeness and uncertainty does not inspire confidence in those who look to you for leadership. And if your followers do not have confidence, they will not follow enthusiastically, perhaps not follow at all.

If confidence is “full trust; belief in the powers, trustworthiness, or reliability of a person or thing,” then what can you do that will promote that in yourself and your followers?

  1. Celebrate achievements with humility. Bravado and bluster does not inspire confidence. Instead it often provokes others to wonder what you are covering up.
  2. View inexperience with optimism, seeing it as merely things you have not yet had the opportunity to do. Superlative leaders do not view new things with fear, they view them opportunistically.
  3. Surround yourself with experts not sycophants. Find people who will complement you, adding to what you are not or cannot do and be. If your ego is weak and you need people to flatter you, remember that compliments are not the same as complements. The absolute last thing you want is to work yourself into a situation where you’re in way over your head and have few or no resources to get yourself out.
  4. Be aware of how you talk to yourself. Some people are too critical of themselves. Yes, we all have apprehensions. Yes, we all have failures. And that’s the point. The feelings you have are universal. You are not alone nor are you unique. Speak honestly to yourself but not with condemnation.
  5. Look the part. Why do you think airline pilots don’t show up for work in Bermuda shorts, Hawaiian shirts, and sandals? Because it would not inspire confidence among the crew or the passengers! Leaders need to look like leaders in the context in which they lead. Whatever the socially acceptable standard is in your industry, meet it.
  6. Act the part. Speak with decorum, avoid unsavory jokes, eliminate offensive speech. Don’t qualify every edict or order by sounding tentative. Being “iffy” works against you.
  7. Don’t fall apart. Keep your head about you in times of crisis or challenge. This is where superlative leadership really shines. Thankfully, few of us will ever face what Captain Sully did, but we will face challenges. Keep your head about you. After all, in quietness and confidence is your strength.


6 otherly competencies of a superlative leader

talk“Good luck on your new position,” said the outgoing chairman. “You’ll start heading towards your objectives, look behind you, and find no one there.”

“I don’t know why no one will help,” complained another leader. “Surely they can see I am overloaded. I can’t understand why they don’t step up and pitch in.”

If there is a number one always present failure in leaders, I would say it is in the competencies or rather lack of competencies they have in working with others. It seems to be endemic among leaders, who are almost always observant and aware and actively involve themselves with the job at hand, that those leaders expect others to be as observant and aware as they are.

But they seldom are.

Indeed, superlative leaders possess highly competent skills in relating to and working with others. Here are six ways they do that.

1. Communicate effectively and appropriately with others. Email and texting has its place, but effectiveness may preclude them. In a CYA (Cover Your A**) world, the desire to have a written record of communication has its place. But nothing works as well as a face-to-face or voice-to-voice conversation. Use email to summarize what you’ve talked about. Give enough information for others to do their job. Don’t use information or withholding it to control others. And don’t make people ask you the right questions. I’ve seen leaders dole out answers based on the question refusing to discern and intuit what the questioner really wants and needs. Many times subordinates don’t know what questions to ask, certainly won’t know all the nuances of a situation that they might need to respond responsibly.

2. Always develop others. Hardly anyone will be at the level of competence or commitment where they can respond to the demands of the situation without some adjustment. Superlative leaders actively and deliberately develop others around them. I am writing a course on this very subject which I will make available in a few weeks. Make this competence something you do on purpose.

3. Demand accuracy and truth. I wrote earlier about how the Allied chief of staff was informed about the evidence indicating a German offensive but the headquarters refused to believe it. The other side of the coin is to have associates who tell you only what they think you want to hear. Never tolerate sycophants. Insist that you are told the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

4. Build and maintain relationships. Powers of persuasion need someone to persuade. Leadership is a people process. Our circle of concern is always bigger than our circle of ability. Tools and technology will help us. People will help us more.

5. Manage teams and work groups effectively. This goes along with #4. The temptation to do it yourself is at times overwhelming and oft times more efficient. But in the end it’s less effective. You have neither the time nor the talent to do everything that has to be done. Your role and objective to become even more effective demands that your competencies extend to the ability to monitor and direct the work of teams you have in place.

6. Build bridges and deal with opposition. You can provoke antagonism or you can ameliorate it. You will have those who oppose what you do. Develop the competence to deal with it. Weak leaders resort to blame shifting, accusations, and playing politics. Strong leaders don’t.

On Thursday, I will sum up the competencies of a superlative leader with 6 universal abilities.

4 questions to ask when someone brings a problem to you or you can learn a lot from a monkey

monkeys-with signLeaders, especially superlative ones, are achievers. They get things done. They are typically hands-on, roll up the sleeves type of people who attack life and its opportunities head on.

It is that sort of attitude that contributes to success, a tenacious, never say die pursuit of achievement. Typically they are labeled Type A, but I think type B personalities can be just as tenacious and relentless. They are just quieter about it.

But, this attitude and inclination can get us into trouble. We tend to pick up too many things, lock in to too many pursuits, and want to fix every issue. If we’re not careful, we will be guilty of meddling or compromised in our ability to develop the skills and competence of others because we do things they should be doing.

Doubtless, subordinates and associates will bring problems to you. Indeed, the competence to solve problems is imperative for superlative leaders, but I’ll write more about that next week. Right now I want to address this topic as a counselor.

Some of you know that I donate several days a month to the local SCORE* chapter, a group of business men and women who mentor business owners or those who would like to be business owners. Of the many competencies found in our mentors, a universal one is we never take up a problem if it could and should be handled by the person we are mentoring.  You do not develop people by doing for them what they must do for themselves.

Imagine, if you will, that your workplace is a jungle. Indeed it may seem like one at times. Chaos, wild animals, and uncivilized behavior may occasionally be what you see most but usually things function naturally. People go about their business and the work gets done.

To carry the analogy further, consider that each task, each responsibility, each problem is a monkey. Every person who works in the jungle has monkeys to take care of and usually they do.

But when monkeys become troublesome and unruly, something happens that directly affects you.

However, monkeys climb. They climb up the tree. And where is your desk (or main workplace)? That’s right. You sit in the higher reaches of the jungle.

Troublesome monkeys are, well, troublesome. It is not unusual that monkey-tenders will hand off bothersome monkeys if they can. So the monkey may find itself on your desk or someone may bring it to you.

JUNGLE SURVIVAL RULE #1 – Give monkeys back.

Your job is to develop and equip others. That’s your monkey and it’s a big one. You are NOT the keeper of everyone else’s monkey. So don’t accept a problem just because someone hands it to you. Here are 4 questions to ask of the monkey-tender:

1. What is the problem? You want to know the nature of the problem itself. Almost always a subordinate or an associate will tell you the effects not the cause. You want to be able to identify the cause(s) and cannot be content with the effects only. Here’s the important part, you want to train the subordinate or associate to discover the cause. Do not treat effects only and do not allow those you lead to stop at effects. If you do the effects will surely and inevitably come around again. So, ask and keep probing until you get the answer and get the monkey-tender to be able to identify the problem and its cause(s).

2. What have you done about it? You want to know why the monkey is troubled, sick, or dying, and you want to know what has been done already. The answer will reveal much. You save time and eliminate guessing. You also begin to see the problem-solving skills (or lack thereof) of your co-workers.

3. What do you want me to do about? This sounds a little snarky but I don’t mean it that way. I am not suggesting you should answer sharply harshly or with a condescending manner. I do mean you should probe to find out what they want from you. A solution? Just to gossip? A reward for being an informant? Help? Advice? Or what?

4. What are your expectations in coming to see me at this time? While this may sound almost like question #3, it isn’t. A powerful component in the problem-solving process is attitude. The answer to this question reveals the level of hope, the degree of frustration, and/or the frame of mind, positive or negative. It begins to set the tone for what you have to do next?

And what is that, you ask?

Well, you’ll have to wait until Monday to find out. I gotta go.  There’s a monkey on my desk and he needs more bananas.


*SCORE is not for retired people only. A large number of volunteers are young business owners who just want to help out other business owners. You could be a mentor too. Check it out at

Forward focus – handling CAVE people

paperIf there is one competency that separates a leader from a manager, it is this one: the ability to maintain a forward focus and organize change to facilitate it. There are a thousand things that compete for our attention (well, maybe not a thousand but it can seem like it).

And there are a thousand problems that need to be solved, phone calls to be returned, people to see, and agenda items to be completed.

But superlative leaders have one focus, even if it must compete for their attention. They maintain a forward focus and evaluate everything, EVERYTHING, against that.

Managers don’t. It is their job to manage day to day numbers. It is their job to make sure processes run smoothly and productively (according to numbers).

But it is the leader’s job to focus ahead. S/he does not measure progress by conformity to systems and processes. S/he measures progress by how well those systems and processes advance the company or organization forward, propelling everyone and everything towards the future.

Not everyone can do that. Some leaders strangely find it comforting and reassuring to be needed and validate that reassurance by being drawn in to problems.

Focus on those tasks and responsibilities uniquely yours (forward moving items) and give everything else away. EVERYTHING!  Problems, problematic people, or broken things. Superlative leaders don’t get caught in those nets. Issues need to be addressed, problems need to be solved, and people need attention but it is not your responsibility to do all of it. Your focus must remain forward and relatively narrow.

Raise up others who will facilitate you and your vision then trust them to extend your reach, multiply your effectiveness, and divide your work. To do that you need to trust your own instincts and abilities to recruit and empower the right people.

Focus efforts on those tasks and people who will make change real. There are those folks called CAVE people – Constantly Against Virtually Everything. They delight in finding something wrong with just about everything and are not shy about vocalizing their opinion. They can, because they make so much noise and stir things up, draw your attention and pull time and energy away from forward movement. Isolate those folks and treat the disease (either cure it or amputate it), but remain forward focus.

When you’re up to your armpits in alligators, remember that alligators are not the objective, draining the swamp is. Stay motivated yourself. Stay focused yourself. Stay encouraged yourself. You have the upper hand and the higher ambition. Don’t let issues and problems appear bigger than they appear. You are bigger than any of them and you will prevail.


16 Qualities of a Superlative Leader – Taking Leadership Personally – The symbolic side of the leader

Keeping Up Appearances

symbolicCommunication always happens. Even when you are not deliberately sending a text, speaking before a group, speaking with someone, making a call, or any of the other acts we would equate with communicating, leaders are always communicating something.

That is the symbolic nature of the job. Someone somewhere is reading something into what you say and do. Symbols are:

  1. Arbitrary – their meaning is neither fixed nor universal. They gain credence and power based on the setting and the relationship of parties involved.
  2. Ambiguous – they deal in the world of impressions, feelings, reactions, and responses.
  3. Alterative – they change perceptions of reality and therefore change reality itself. They create meaning or, when presented badly or maliciously, they de-mean, detract from meaning.

Superlative leaders understand that they have a part to play in the story that is their life and their company. That there is a job to be done, tasks to complete, ideas to originate, and ground to be gained. But they also understand that it is not a rational, logical, Spock-like position only. They know that they work with and for people who have emotions, think abstractly, and react or respond at times irrationally. But, beyond that, superlative leaders understand that the irrational nature of humans is not completely irrational.

Unscrupulous leaders exploit this. Lacking character and honor, they know they can play the role in such a way to manipulate others to get others to do what the leader wants for himself. They will use their gifts of performance and use of symbols to use others. Superlative leaders won’t even though they could. They do, however, know that what is most important is not what happens but what it means.

A leading role has meaning. It adds something to the story. A leading role is the part of the protagonist, the one who plays the first part. You are the good guy, or at least you should be.

A leading role has entrances…and exits. Yours is not a one man show, let others do that at your funeral. You make appearances and absent yourself. You play a dominant role or a supportive one, but you are always in the wings, always there.

A leading role serves as the one with whom others identify. You become the voice, the face, the persona that is your company or department.

A leading role has relevance. A leader who is irrelevant has moved away from leadership. You know you are effective when who you are, what you believe, what you say, what you indent influences the thinking, attitudes, and actions of those you lead. No influence = no leadership.

A leading role is a mantle taken on. Many of its mannerisms and nuances are learned and assumed for the sake of the performance. Climbing into a higher place of responsibility may certainly mean an alteration of what you do and say.

A leading role is never an act of deception or an attempt to mislead, or at least it shouldn’t be. You are not trying to snooker anyone. You are trying to exert influence without demanding it and so you exploit the devices and actions that will make you even more effective.

Here is my lists of what some of them are:

  1. Symbolic devices – items have power. There are things we use that convey meaning.
      1. Clothing – maybe it’s a suit, a uniform, a vest (different colors mean different things like at Lowes), a cap.
      2. Office – a corner office has more symbolic meaning that a cubicle. How the office is kept conveys meaning too. Is it orderly or messy? It is well-furnished? Well lighted? Some who take the symbolism of devices to an extreme cut down the legs of chairs that sit in front of their desk so that those who come into the office must look up at the person behind the desk. I think this is a bit far, but you get the idea.
      3. Location – Where you stand and where you sit symbolizes something. The head of a group or the head of a table, your role is often played out center stage.
      4. Emblems – a badge, a nametag, epaulets on the shoulders, seals on podiums all symbolize the role.
      5. Accessories – the type of car you drive, the devices you use like a phone, the computer that sits on your desk…or doesn’t.


  2. Communications
    1. Public pronouncements – be presidential, so to speak.
    2. Private correspondence – words have meaning and yours have lots of meaning. Use emails for general and generic stuff. Use the phone or better, a personal face-to-face talk for personal stuff.
  3. Symbolic acts – the power of optics – you are the face of your company, organization, business, department and others are watching
    1. Officiating – ceremonies, official functions, awards events, company picnics and banquets, civic functions, and the like. Be there.
    2. Bestowing awards – act like its important and make it a big deal.
    3. Appearing to be engaged – look like you are paying attention to your job. Superlative leaders understand that personal sacrifices have to be made because of how things appear.
    4. Projecting confidence – speak with authority even if you harbor reservations. Confidence is infectious but doubt is like a raging epidemic.
    5. Taking charge – You’re the one in charge so make the decision, give the directive, speak up.
    6. Maintaining authenticity – In this one I will sound like I am contradicting myself. I said earlier that you put this on like a stage performance but I never am implying duplicity. Be who you are all the time. Talking the talk and walking the walk makes a powerful and influential leader.

Those uncomfortable with the mantle of leadership feel somewhat awkward with this side of things but I want to encourage you to approach it like you would a part in a play. This side of the role of leader really is performance art. Any new skill is awkward at first but soon becomes part of who you are. You are, after all, a superlative leader. Acting like it is completely acceptable.

Qualities of a Superlative Leader – Personal Competencies #2 – Drive and Purpose part 2

Clear-Sense-Of-PurposeBorn Alisa Zinov’yevna Rosenbaum in 1905 to a Jewish family in St. Petersburg, Russia, Ayn Rand, as she came to be known in the US, became one of the 20th centuries most controversial and influential authors and philosophers.

After the Russian Revolution, her family’s business was confiscated by the government as the country became a worker’s paradise. She watched individualism and personal ambition be subjugated to statism and collectivism.

Immigrating to the United States in 1925. Arriving in New York on February 25th of that year, she cried what she called “tears of splendor” at the site of the Manhattan skyline. Migrating gradually west, she ended up in Los Angeles becoming a friend of Cecile B. DeMille.

Becoming a US citizen in 1931, Ayn Rand enjoyed her first literary success in 1932 selling a screenplay called The Red Pawn to Universal Studios. She is best remembered these days for her novels “The Fountainhead” and “Atlas Shrugged.”

She founded what has come to be known as objectivism rejecting faith and mysticism. She also became a strong and fierce advocate of individual responsibility and liberty.  In Atlas Shrugged she wrote that your work is the process of achieving your values, and to lose your ambition for values is to lose your ambition to live,” and “the man who has no purpose is a machine that coasts downhill at the mercy of any boulder to crash in the first chance ditch.” Throughout her life, Ayn Rand was driven by a purpose to leave her mark on the world and she succeeded.

In the previous post I wrote about what goes wrong when you don’t have drive and purpose. In this post I want to address the other side of the coin.  Here are 8 reasons why superlative leaders possess drive and purpose:

  1. When you have drive and purpose, work is not work. It isn’t play either. But it is that wonderful match of values, ambitions, motives, ambitions, skills, talents, and opportunity.
  2. Drive is energy and ambition, purpose is reason and motive. Drive pushes you forward. Purpose draws you forward. Drive is the get up and go. It starts where you start. Purpose is the “got there” side of the trip, it makes you want to endure the challenges of the journey.
  3. Purpose is the sum of all your values and ambitions. What you do, how you do it, and what is realized as a result of those efforts reveals why.
  4. Being busy is good but in the end unfulfilling and unrewarding unless you are busy for the right reasons and towards the right ends. And only you can determine what those reasons are and what the ends should be… and it is never all about you. Superlative leaders become remembered for more than what they did. They are remembered for what they did, how they did it, and how it left a positive impact. Their life counted for something.
  5. The minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, and years you spend working add up to the sum total of your life’s contribution to human history. Therefore what you live for is the same as what you die for. You give your life for something. Everyone does. The question to be answered is what and why. For some the week is spent so one may enjoy the weekend. Many have nothing more invested in their career than the time between paychecks. Superlative leaders have far more at risk and they know it. Some see their life in two week segments. But you don’t. You see it is its totality.
  6. Purpose and drive put obstacles and setbacks in perspective. No one escapes reversals or challenges. No one. Drive and purpose is the horsepower and the torque to get through them.
  7. Purpose and drive simplifies life. It enables you to make priorities quite readily and set schedules with confidence and without apology. Once values are clarified and ambitions are focused, once talents and skills are understood and motives are identified, the resulting purpose and drive makes life’s choices quite simple. With confidence and ease one makes the decisions that eliminate conflicting opportunities. (Shameless self-promotion here – if you haven’t done so already, my Mastering Your Time mini-course shows you how to do exactly that. Sign up for it here. It’s completely free of charge.)
  8. Superlative leaders understand that as long as they’re breathing, their purpose in life is not complete. Retirement is not a cessation of activity. It is not an end to really important and useful tasks. Superlative leaders keep at it longer, engage life more fully, and accomplish more because they long ago settled that their purpose in life is not to disengage and play golf 5 days a week. It is so much more than that…and it is why so many people of drive and purpose lives life so full for so long.

So I end with a favorite quote from motivational speaker and author Steven Maraboli – “I want to live my life in such a way that when I get out of bed in the morning, the devil says, “aw sh*t, he’s up!”

There are worlds to conquer and some of them have your name on them. Go make them your own.

Qualities of a Superlative Leader – 29 Competencies

4 sets of competenciesJason (not his real name) was a perfectly irritating individual. There was just something about him that was abrasive and off-putting. He had been crossways with nearly everyone in the building. He had a Gomer Pyle intellect, a Barney Fife attitude, and a Machiavellian manner. Upper management moved him from department to department almost always just in time to prevent outright mutiny in those he managed…actually managed quite ineptly. He didn’t even have a kind heart or generous outlook. He was absolutely manipulative and clueless about what it took to motivate anyone to do anything other than harbor murderous intent against him. While some ineffective leaders use manipulation, they do so with flattery and ego stroking. Not Jason. He used guilt and shame, making subtle but unmistakable suggestions that you were somehow letting him down and threatening his status and standing (like those he tried this on could give a rats fanny what Jason’s standing and status was). If that didn’t work, then Jason would suggest that you didn’t care about the company, a device that is ineffective 99% of the time.

He was eventually fired for rigging the computer records of someone he was fighting with to make that other person appear to be derelict in their duties. The company from which he was terminated was the second in the same industry to let him go. Both companies gave him plenty of time, lots of room, and obviously ineffective coaching. The last I heard he was running a crew for a cleaning company…but if his past predicts the future, and it almost always does, he was more adept at running them off than he was at running them effectively.

He was not a superlative leader. True enough Jason possessed reasonably competent organizational skills and his soft-spoken approach fooled lots of people including his supervisors. But eventually, who he was caught up with what everyone thought he was.

Competence is almost always evident immediately. Incompetence can take some time to manifest but without doubt it will become evident. However, we don’t want to mistake inability to do a certain task with inability to learn how to do a task. The former is not incompetence, the latter is. When I wrote about competence that is resident at one time and not another in the previous post, that applies here.

True enough there are innate talents, skills, capacities that all superlative leaders have. But there are some things that come with time and experience.

Unlike some of my colleagues who believe that leadership can be taught, I do not believe so. Yes, we can train people to be responsible for certain tasks, show them how to do them, and expect them to report on them. But we are not God. We cannot impart gifts of superlative leadership. They are either there or they are not. Leaders lead. No one else does. Leaders stand out and prompt respect. Others, like Jason who was malicious and countless more who are not malicious, may stand out, but they either provoke contempt as in Jason’s case or pity as in most others.

People who have those leadership gifts most often find places of leadership wherein fulfillment and satisfaction follow. They encounter challenges, endure stress, sometimes lots of it, but eventually succeed. People who do not may enjoy some success, but the sense of fulfillment and satisfaction is never quite there. Indeed, anxiety, stress, unhappiness, and other negative emotions overshadow any accolades of approval that might come their way.

Jason was not happy and he made everyone around him unhappy, too. Superlative leaders impart optimism and happiness within their sphere of influence because they are well-fitted for the mantle they wear.

Indeed, if I were forced to define leadership in a single word it would be INFLUENCE. Effective leaders are influential. Superlative leaders are effortlessly influential. Well, not really effortlessly but they make it appear to be effortless.

No discussion of competence can be fairly treated if it does not include some discussion of competencies.  While competence is “a cluster of related abilities, commitments, knowledge, and skills that enable a person (or an organization) to act effectively in a job or situation,” a competency is one of those abilities, commitments, facts, or skills that manifest themselves and enable us to act effectively in a job or circumstance.

Some are, of course, job specific, like pipefitting or bricklaying or writing and teaching or computer programming. But most are not. I cannot even begin to address job specific competencies. They are outside the scope and sequence of this blog and my coaching practice. HR people have to determine them and aptitude tests are reasonably good at identifying personal aptitudes that lead to acquiring proficiency so I’ll leave that to them.

There are, however, those competencies that are universal, that show up in all superlative leaders. (Again, I want to emphasize here that there are far more superlative leaders than you might think. Go back and read the very first article in this series where I discuss the difference between primary and secondary greatness. Superlative does not equal flashy. Most superlative leaders function in relative obscurity but that in no way demeans the superlative nature of their leadership.

The competencies to which I will attend divide themselves up in four directions:

  1. Personally
    1. Demonstrate ethics and integrity
    2. Live with drive and purpose
    3. Serve as a symbol, accepting and shouldering the mantle of leadership
    4. Learn aggressively
    5. Exercise self-discipline and restraint
    6. Knowledge and acceptance of strengths…and limitations
    7. Developed adaptability
  2. Organizationally
    1. Maintain a forward focus and organize change
    2. Identify and solve problems
    3. Make decisions
    4. Manage politics and influence others
    5. Take intelligent risks and innovate
    6. Set vision, develop strategy, implement tactics
    7. Monitor the work
    8. Business skills and knowledge
    9. Understand and navigate the organization
    10. Always motivate, never manipulate
  3. Otherly
    1. Communicate effectively and appropriately
    2. Always develop others
    3. Demand accuracy and truth (no sycophants)
    4. Build and maintain relationships
    5. Manage effective teams and work groups
    6. Build bridges, dealing with opposition
  4. Universally
    1. Gentility
    2. Likeability
    3. Stability
    4. Responsibility
    5. Reliability
    6. Resourcefulness

Well enough for today. I begin to discuss each of the 29 competencies on Monday. See you then.