Iam a little obsessed with leadership lately. I love leadership in theory, but in practice it tends to fall short more often than it impresses. I’ve got an idea why.
A few weeks ago I attended a two-day training session on “crucial conversations”. Shortly after, a couple of my colleagues went to SXSW. And just last week I received three emails from friends with links to leadership related articles as well as two book recommendations, one on strengths-based leadership and another on business model generation. These things happen all the time; training, conferences, recommendations, workshops, suggested reading…it’s nonstop. And most of it is nonsense, but that’s only true for those that have vision. A lot of people don’t, and for them this grab bag o’ business tools is what’s going to take them to the “next level”.
The thought: pick the best parts of each, put them into one über strategy for success, and then position the business around it. Or worse, position around the latest, and reposition constantly. Either way, it’s bad news, and bad business. Leadership is about vision. Businesses without it struggle to find alignment; they struggle to know themselves and become unduly susceptible to outside influence as a result.
A recent shopping trip with a friend illustrates this point perfectly. Shopping for clothing, we selected the items we liked and later found our way to the fitting rooms, which were filled with a dozen or so other things a stylist had recommended. I tossed them all to the side—as beautiful as Marc Jacobs’ green leather pants might be, surely they’re not “me”. My friend however, tried every thing on and ended up buying a few of the stylist’s top picks. She wore them each once or twice; today they’re collecting dust in the back half of her closet, right next to that über strategy.
Lack of self-knowledge leads to self-doubt. Self-doubt leads to failure. And failure naturally motivates the search for an über strategy. Shakespeare had it right when he penned Polonius’ famous farewell to Laertes in Hamlet, “This above all: to thine own self be true.”
My advice to leaders: the latest is rarely the greatest. Resist the sweet seduction of that new management book; forget cool in favor of real; don’t mistake workshops for guidebooks; attend training sessions with an open mind not a desperate one; and go with what you know, not with what you just heard.
Know yourself, and rule the world.