Leadership, it’s such a powerful, yet overly used word in our society. We teach it in universities, not only as content in a business class, but entire semesters and workshops are dedicated to it.
Politicians have adopted it for their own needs: they criticize their opponent for his/her lack of “leadership” and bill themselves as great leaders. We men are particularly fond of the word; it was men who came to believe that simply by being male, we had a birth given right to it.
It was easy to research for my latest book examples of the use and misuse, understanding and misunderstanding of leadership, but it was harder to realize how much I too had bought into the misnomer of leadership. I wrote there that as an international executive in charge of establishing, opening, joint venturing or managing businesses around the world, I experienced this blind faith in leadership first-hand.
On occasions when the results in that particular country were good, as evidenced mostly by large profits but also by satisfied customers, I received rave reviews, accolades, awards, and large bonuses. According to the CEO and the board of Directors, my leadership was the unquestionable reason for the fabulous results seen in country X.
I admit that I was often guilty of not being too vocal in pointing out that the conditions for our type of business in country x were in fact the perfect storm for making money. In some cases it would have been practically impossible NOT to make money. It was perhaps in spite of me that we made money. A cocker spaniel given my job would also have been fairly successful in those cases. At other times, I would use the same business school education and determination, the same skill and confidence, the same or harder work and effort, the same strategy and know-how and expertise, and the business (this time in country Y) would fail or break even, or not make very much money at all. At those times I shamelessly pointed out all the negative forces that had conspired to make the new venture difficult at best and a recipe for disaster at worst.
I had taken the praise before with a low key and pseudo modest air, but now complained to anyone who would listen how difficult it was. Either way I was the same executive. Surprisingly, the kudos I had received before because of the business’ success in country X that had been attributed to my “leadership” would dry up this time, since the reason for the failure or lackluster results was clearly the result of…wait…my “lack of leadership”!?
How can that be? How can I be a phenomenally astute and capable leader in Australia, but a lousy and inept one in Brazil?
I was the same guy… doing what I always did… launching some of these markets at the same time or months apart.
Some business books still teach about the differences and similarities between managers and leaders. In business and in academia, I have often heard someone describe a colleague, employee, or direct report as a “great manager” but “not much of a leader.” That is, by definition, incorrect. There is no such thing as a great manager who is also a terrible leader. What organization, whether for profit or nonprofit would want a manager who can’t lead (motivate, inspire, strategize, plan) or a leader who can’t manage (understand management control tools, his/her employees productivity measures, the fit of goals vs. results)?
History is full of examples of companies that have failed, some of them because they had what they thought were leaders who could not manage and others because they had what they thought were good managers who could not lead. But if you are very good at one of these you are, by definition, at least pretty good at the other. Perhaps the most important tool in the toolbox of great leadership is possession of good interpersonal skills. Good communication (both in written form and speech), intuition, emotional and social intelligence, keeping the ego in check, and listening are skills that are critical to good leadership.
Men, far more than women, like to think that if we do that which makes us great leaders we will succeed no matter what. It is ironic that women often make better managers and leaders than men. The greatest irony of all is that, as a Management professor I must teach my students each semester that there are many recent studies that analyze those attributes that account for better leadership and women score higher in most of them. One of them is good listening skills… as if we needed to conduct a multi-million dollar study to research which gender is better at listening!!??
The world needs new leadership that is real leadership. Women are ideally suited for this new chapter in our evolution. Female leadership centers on building and maintaining relationships. By contrast, male leadership depends on competition and winning. It’s no wonder that the United States Congress of 2012 is the legislative body with less accomplished in the history of politics. Making the other guy look bad and blocking anything that will make him look good is what we men are mostly about.
In the new age powered by relationships, coalitions and consensus, the male style of single leaders will not work. Female leadership is the recipe for getting us out of the mess we find ourselves in. For us men to be successful leaders we need to take a few cues from women.
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