The crucible of leadership.

'Leadership' continues to be a hot topic in business these days. And rightfully so, as it has been demonstrated time and time again, that without good leadership businesses, teams, and even families fail.

Most of what gets written and discussed about leadership is either 'what' makes a good leader or 'how' to become a good leader. These are usually important and interesting case studies on individual successful leaders or fantastic discoveries about the seemingly common elements of what qualities great leaders share. The literature is supported by countless hours of research, years of collecting data points, and entertaining real world (or even fictitious) stories to help illustrate the findings. What eventually gets published is the purported 'formula' for finding, becoming, or building great leaders.

But there are some other things we should consider. What about the extremely personal element of leadership? The kind of successful stewardship that is ONLY created between one particular group and their one particular leader. Or how about the fact that people change. Specifically, personalities and behaviors change. I can speak from my own experience, that I lead groups of people far differently today then I did 20 years ago. Thinking that we can take a great leader from one organization and drop them into another, expecting the exact same results, is like taking a husband from one marriage and dropping him into another marriage, expecting everything to function similarly. At a minimum there is a deeply personal and unique connection between successful leaders and their teams.  

Great leadership at its core has to be very personal and evolves from an organic nurturing of particular human elements over a period of time. There is no one-size-fits-all. There are no set of rules or even character attributes that if followed or adopted are guaranteed to garner 'great leadership'. We are dealing with humans on both the 'led' side and on the 'leader' side. There are no standard methods or qualities that make great leaders. And for those who want to point to leaders that have, year over year, produced successful teams; I would suggest that they were most likely effective at building 'good' teams amidst a sea of not-so-good leaders. I would also point to the countless examples of leaders that were deemed 'brilliant' or 'revolutionary' and have since moved on to another organization only to disappear into oblivion.

Similarly, one of the most frequent questions I get asked about my travel WODing is, "Who was the best (or worst) coach you've ever had when you've dropped in to a box?" And that is a difficult question to answer because each gym has it's own feel. It's own 'leadership'. It works for their members, their town, their part of the country, etc. Who am I to judge how well a coach runs a class or the quality of leadership from a coach? Of course we can all point to things that universally DON'T work well in leadership, coaching, and even marriages, but calculating the 'right formula' is a little more tricky...and requires an understanding of the unique human elements of each individual situation.

Here's one brutal truth, not everyone has the capacity to be a good leader. I understand that everyone can run a business, anyone can coach a team, and clearly anyone can have children, get married, and have a family. But not everyone is a leader or even good at any of those 'leadership' roles. We know that a title in business doesn't mean anything. And because there aren't any 'leadership police' that can make a ruling as to whether or not someone is qualified to be a leader, there is the potential for an ongoing environment of dangerously poor leadership. More often then I care to admit, I've watched questionable senior leaders in a position to promote and hire other leaders, make poor talent decisions and the cycle of bad leadership spirals out of control.

Happy ending? This post doesn't have a solution to the existing problem of poor leadership except to remind everyone to be extremely careful reading and trying to adopt skills or character attributes from some leadership 'bible' best seller. Those traits worked for that person, in those organizations, at that given time. It doesn't necessarily transfer to you or your company. Leadership is personal and specific to organizations like a marriage is personal and particular to a family. Choose where you work, who you work with, and what you do wisely. And for those out there looking to hire great leaders, I suggest picking people based on your mutual commitment, ability to care, and earned trust as much as anything that a person has achieved on their resume or their previous titles at other companies.