What Makes for a Great Leader: Two Pillars

by Ron Potter

Over the last several years, investors suddenly began looking for CEOs who could shake things up and put an end to what was perceived as a business-as-usual approach. A new breed of corporate leader emerged: the charismatic CEO. A fervent and often irrational faith in the power of dynamic leaders became part of our culture.

Rakesh Khurana writes,

Faith is an invaluable, even indispensable gift in human affairs.… In the sphere of business, the faith of entrepreneurs, leaders, and ordinary employees in a company, a product, or an idea can unleash tremendous amounts of innovation and productivity. Yet today’s extraordinary trust in the power of the charismatic CEO resembles less a mature faith than it does a belief in magic. If, however, we are willing to begin rethinking our ideas about leadership, the age of faith can be followed by an era of faith and reason.

The adventure of looking for the charismatic leader sometimes asked us to turn our backs on attributes such as honesty, integrity, sensitivity, commitment, achievement, nurturing, trustworthiness, peacemaking, and courage.

But as Jim Collins explained so convincingly in his best-selling book Good to Great, it is the non-charismatic leader who seems to endure and shine in the long run. Collins writes:

Compared to high-profile leaders with big personalities who make headlines and become celebrities, the good-to-great leaders [leaders who have taken companies to unprecedented long-term growth] seem to have come from Mars. Self-effacing, quiet, reserved, even shy—these leaders are a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will. They are more like Lincoln and Socrates than Patton or Caesar.

In my book Trust Me, I outline eight attributes of a truly great leader. I refer to two of those attributes as the pillars: humility and endurance. Focusing on these two pillars is like so many things (golf included) that are both simple and complex. However, our experience tells us that great leaders allow these two attributes, whether natural or not, to strongly influence their leadership style. They learn how to overcome or “position” their natural tendencies. They let the two pillars “pull them through” their swing of everyday leadership and team building.

Great leaders seek to be humble people who lift up others and keep the spotlight on their companies, not themselves. They have a burning ambition to see tasks completed, and they balance that desire with a deep concern for the growth and development of people. They want to nurture relationships, help others flourish, and shove the fuss away from themselves.

Pressure and mounting fear can drive you away from the two pillars in order to succeed in the short run, but it will not last or create trust. It will only drive a wedge between you and the true success you can have as a leader who focuses on the two pillars and the other attributes.

Once again I want to remind you of the power contained in these qualities—and how the opposite qualities can destroy the great person you want to become and the great organization you want to lead.

We all have the ability to adapt these attributes to our particular leadership styles. You have the ability to start today. Why wait any longer?

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