Leaders do not need technical skills in the core business of the organisations they lead, to achieve success in their jobs. I am sure that you and myself possess transferable leadership skills that can lead us to success in any industry. You do not have to look further than the renowned World-Bank for a good example of transferable leadership skills, applied in a technically complex business eco-system. The current president of the world bank Dr Jim Yong Kim, Is a medical doctor by training, leading one of the world’s most influential economic power houses. I am not sure that Dr Kim uses much of his technical skills as a physician, in his job at the world bank.
So, how do leaders like Dr Kim succeed in leading organisations and people below them, that are more competent than them in the core business of organisations they lead?
Well, those accustomed to the linearity and liking for order, as opposed to discontinuity, will think that certain generic leadership characteristics bring success to the Dr Kim’s of the world.
Indeed, the literature on leadership provides fresh off the factory floor, characteristics of the quintessential leader. The hypothesis is that: if you possess all or the majority of the characteristics below, you are firmly on the path to quintessential leadership:
According to Forbes Magazine, these characteristics make a great leader:
- Ability to delegate
- Positive attitude
- Ability to inspire
Profiles International also lists its ten characteristics to great leadership:
Inc.com shares nine leadership characteristics from its work on great leadership:
Yes, all the above characteristics are a prerequisite to quintessential leadership. However, there is one critical determinant of quintessential leadership, that the above linear characterisation of leadership misses – the INTANGIBLES
There are certain INTANGIBLES that quintessential leaders have, and that happen in the background, prior to the manifestation of the above orthodox characteristics. The intangibles, as the name goes, cannot necessarily be listed as products/characteristics of a quintessential leader. They are soft-habits, gut-feelings that are innate to the DNA of a quintessential leader and not easily copied
Leaders that drive organisations to greater heights possess certain soft and Invisible elements. These come before the technical characteristics we are all accustomed – the so-called leadership characteristics
In truly quintessential leaders, look out for the intangibles below:
- Pendulum oversight by leaders. Leaders that exhibit this intangible have the ability to swing like a pendulum between strategic, tactical, and operational level issues. This is not the so-called management-by-walking-about and should not be confused with micro-management habits. Pendulum oversight leaders have a good command of what happens at the frontline of organisations, mid-level structures and all the way to the executive and board levels. More importantly they bring the ability to not only swing like a pendulum across these three levels but can seamlessly connect the dots at the three levels, 24/7, moreover both physically and virtually. The latter balance is hard to attain, and a reason why many leaders default to the physical pendulum oversight, and end up being baptised micro-managers.
- From the above pendulum-oversight, leaders attain a helicopter-view position of their organisation and with that, put into practice their knack for identifying black spots across the organisation. Such leaders have a unique aptitude for telling where such black spots are or might appear. Leaders can then direct management efforts towards the black-spots. Such leaders are clearly in cruise mode/control and get the trust of the cadres below them.
- The cumulative effect of adopting pendulum-oversight and a helicopter view position that supports the identification of black spots, brings out a unique yet critical intangible in quintessential leaders. The capability to relate what they observe, to the people that work for them in the organisation. The relating in the latter scenario is not about identifying who is doing their work or not, and bestowing punishment or reward on them, but empathising. Quintessential leaders have the unique DNA that puts them in their workers shoes, small, medium, or big as theirs. In doing so, they get to understand why workers behave the way they do. It is when a leader can understand the underlying cause of a worker’s behaviour, and ultimately achievement or non-achievement, that they can get the best out of them. Empathetic leaders are comfortable with the commitment-to-development of their workers.
- With leaders in the know of why workers behave the way they do, they can deploy viable and sustainable commitment-to-people-development strategies. Moreover, such leaders do the latter without dependence on complex and archaic HR talent-gap identification systems. Such capability comes naturally to them and in such leaders, is a mobile talent development unit
- Armed with the above four, a quintessential leader attains the ability to seamlessly make small yet significant incremental changes to the value chain of the organisation. Friends, there is not the time to wait for large scale change-episodes at organisations. Quintessential leaders make change a seamless part of their organisations value chain. Such leaders shall convince their staff to sign a contract with the organisation, that is only honoured by the organisation if there is continuous search for newness and change.
Can business schools, leadership development colleges teach the five intangibles above? In all fairness, at least one intangible, empathy, is listed in the orthodox characteristics shared earlier in the blog
However, generally speaking, leadership literature and those recruiting and selecting leaders disregard the INTANGIBLES.
Why do we disregard the intangibles in leadership discourse?
First and foremost, the leadership characteristics outlined earlier on in this blog have become generic commodities that you and myself can go and buy at a top or even mediocre business school. Leadership coaching, a growing industry, is artificially developing us leaders, by implanting orthodox leadership characteristics – welcome come to the age of ‘artificial’ leadership. All you have to do is show evidence of the orthodox list in your leadership toolbox, and you will be elevated to the status of quintessential leader. I cannot blame those that disregard the INTANGIBLES after all, why bother with what is not seen and valued?
Second, there is a tendency to confuse tenure and leadership pedigree at interview time. For example – I have been on interview panels where interviewees have argued and got jobs, on how long they have worked in senior leadership positions.
I have serious concerns about the shallowness of the orthodox interview: I may have to my professional clock, years of senior leadership experience, but how is that related to being a quintessential leader? I may have been exposed to complex leadership situations and came out on the other side still alive – but how do you tell, my actual footprint and value addition in such complexity?
The orthodox interview process, in my opinion, cannot be relied upon to identify quintessential leaders. It does not address ‘interviewing for the intangibles’. Organisation and HR specialists should move away from the orthodox interview. It is linear, boxed, easy to coach for – for those in doubt, go ahead and read this example of interview dynamics from the development industry
What should organisations look for in quintessential leaders?
Well, simple answer, INTANGIBLES!
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