March 24, 2018
Embody the Leader
by Rishab Rao
“When I talk to Managers, I get the feeling that they are important. When I talk to Leaders, I get the feeling that I am important.” – Alexander Den Heijer, Inspirational Speaker
Which Leadership Persona are You?
What type of leadership persona do you embody? Are you a Boss who manages your staff through strict authoritative hierarchy? Are you a Hero who leads your staff expecting fawning reverence from them? Perhaps you are simply a Ranker, who is the leader in rank only? Or are you a true Leader who achieves objectives through the empowerment of your staff?
[Note: In this article, we will use ”leader” with a lower case ”l” to refer to a rank in an organization, and ”Leader” with a capital “L” to refer to the Leader persona.]
In the absence of a leadership frame of reference, it is not always clear if one is a good leader or just a good leader impersonator. Ask a dozen people what they believe the makings of a good leader are and you will receive a dozen different answers. Leadership is a learned skill, not an innate ability. The “born leaders” are most often good people mobilizers and/or good achievers of objectives. A true Leader is someone who creates other Leaders.
All too often leadership articles and books define leadership either as a set of activities a leader performs daily or a set of rules to which the leader must adhere. While these may be good things in and of themselves, they do not necessarily make you a leader. Leadership is about who you are and how you empower others! Achieving objectives are important, but results alone do not define a leader, their methods do.
Leadership Frame of Reference
Leadership behavior can be the difference between success and failure. It is often the leader who jeopardizes an initiative by the way in which they interact with their people. Keeping oneself in check is not easy by any means, but it is necessary in the role of a leader.
To be successful, the leader must look within. Ask yourself two questions in every interactive situation: (i) am I being humble or is my pride getting in the way? and (ii) am I truly confident about my knowledge or am I trying to fake it till I make it? The leader must be true to themselves with their answers. This is more difficult than most people realize. To be honest with oneself to this degree means dealing with many emotional and insecurity-triggered reflexes.
The answers to these two questions lead to understanding two key leadership quality parameters: Disposition and Confidence. Disposition is a scale that stretches from Humble at one end of the scale to Arrogant at the other, while the Confidence scale stretches from Confident to Insecure.
Being humble is the ability to set aside the barrier of pride for the sake of progress. Humility allows the leader to learn new concepts by being open to new ideas and by listening to others’ opinions. The humble leader is more interested in solving the problem than being perceived as correct. The humble leader is not offended when justly corrected. This does not mean that they are push-overs. It simply means they do not let ego or pride stand in the way of true progress. There is no room for disrespect in either direction.
Arrogance is the need to put pride and self above everything, including progress. The hubristic or arrogant leader is more interested in being perceived as correct, than actually solving the problem. Their modus operandi is crafted to protect their reputation and, hence, their authority over situations and people. The hubristic leader views being corrected as an attack on their authority or defiance towards it.
Confidence comes from gaining knowledge and then forming insights based on the application of that knowledge. The leader, and the team, must seek to continuously increase confidence in themselves through acquiring new knowledge and developing insights. To gain confidence the leader must always be learning, acquiring new knowledge, and connecting these points of knowledge to gain new insights.
Insecure leaders tend to decidedly stay in their comfort zones whilst trying to use knowledge limited to past paradigms to solve new and different problems. This is akin to having only one tool in a toolkit (i.e., the tool that is most comfortable or the very first tool that they learned to use). Insecurity is a learned reflex due to formative experiences. It is not innate and can be cured. The solution to insecurity is knowledge and insight. Never stop collecting knowledge and developing insight.
Given the two parameters (Disposition and Confidence) and two levels within each parameter (Humble versus Arrogant and Confident versus Insecure) four combinations emerge.
Source: KHI’s Leadership Coaching
High on both the Humility and Confidence scales, the Leader is the most versatile persona. This type of leader surrounds themselves with capable team members and learns to channel their raw competence. The Leader does not necessarily have greater knowledge than the team, but the Leader knows when their influence on the team is necessary to make progress in the correct direction. Respect for people and the team is central to the Leader.
Advantage: The most desirable of all the Leadership Personas, the Leader is the most versatile and effective persona for new, progressive directions. The Leader is the best persona for the long-term sustainment of an empowered team.
High on the Confidence scale but at the Arrogant end of the Disposition spectrum, the Hero consistently seeks opportunities to be heroic yet appear humble. In fact, they may even create opportunities to elevate their heroic image within and outside the organization. Their high confidence often comes from a great degree of accumulated knowledge and experience, which then allows them to soar in an organization; however, coupled with their arrogance the Hero tends to soar personally in an organization, not necessarily bringing the team along.
Advantage: Teams with low energy and drive tend to benefit in the presence of the Hero because of the Hero’s continuous “lead by example” attitude.
Highly Arrogant in their Disposition and highly Insecure on the Confidence scale, the Boss tends to run the show authoritatively. They tend to micro-manage details. Their hubristic nature limits the Boss from learning concepts or attempting new techniques. Past paradigms will always interfere with progress because they will seek to employ only tried and tested techniques with which they are comfortable. Due to their insecure nature, the Boss tends to view the team’s desire to become empowered as a loss of authority and control. This has a demoralizing effect on the team.
Advantage: Best suited for crisis situations in which there is very little room for learning, development, and gathering knowledge. In this situation the team must simply execute quickly and efficiently.
Highly insecure with their rank, the Ranker lacks the knowledge, insight, and experience to take the initiative as a leader. The Ranker does not understand the technicalities or the roles of leadership. But being Humble on the Disposition scale, the Ranker is content with the team running things. This type of leader prefers to sit back in the hope that the team is capable enough to get the job done without the need for the Ranker to be involved.
Advantage: The Ranker does very well when the team is an extremely competent group that knows their jobs and is highly capable in achieving the objectives.
The Leader Utilizes All the Personas
Nobody is exclusively any one persona all the time. Various situations bring out specific personas within each person. The true Leader knows to draw on the other personas situationally. Becoming a true Leader takes not only training and practice, but also the systematic demolition of certain firmly entrenched preconceptions gathered along the way. Building confidence through knowledge, insight, and experience while gaining awareness and practice with humility sculpts the true Leader.