Choose carefully

After taking England from the brink of an unthinkable nightmare to a victory that would define the 20th Century, Winston Churchill was a national hero, hailed as the leader who saved England. Yet, with an incredible popularity rating of 83%, just 3 months after the WW2 ended, he lost the election to an un-charismatic opponent who made the simple but effective challenge that while Winston was the man to win the war, he was not the man to ‘Win the Peace’…

It would seem that leaders, like horses, are not suited for all courses. Whether you’re a shareholder/investor or board of directors looking to find your next CEO or if you’re a job candidate sat in an interview, looking across the table at the person who is trying to be your next boss…your choices may be simpler but far more impactful than you think.

Humanity is a kaleidoscope of personalities with traits and quirks that make us fantastically different. In this busy mess, where people succeed and fail, we pin our aspirations on making sense of it all. It is not an exact science and we are left with empirical definitions of Leadership defined by our experience or observations.

We can all agree that there are some things about humans that simply divide us and although it is a common belief that the combination of many factors or “traits” combine to create the type of leader we are, our vivid spectrum view might actually be more black and white than we think.

I propose that when it comes to leadership, there is a simple binary divide which (to my knowledge) we do not yet give a name. It is as distinct as black or white, Type A or Type B, X or Y.

Unlike the predetermination of genetics, I believe these leaders are not born, they are programmed by the circumstances and people around them early on.

When it comes to leadership you are either a Leader of Followers or a Leader of Leaders.

Before seeing how deep this rabbit hole goes, it is worth pointing out that almost any book on ‘Leadership” you will have ever read or leadership course you will have ever taken or executive coaching you may have ever endured, will be based entirely on the principals of only one of these types : ‘Leaders of Leaders’. They own the modern business academic agenda and define the construct for how you are supposed to behave on the corporate ladder.

Leaders of Leaders (LOLs), see themselves as coaches, mentors…sage advisors, leaders of evolutions. Their focus is to grow other leaders to be leaders. They build organizations and put leaders in strategic places. These people, to a large extent, dominate corporate America today.

Growing other leaders usually takes high emotional IQ and the best ones have phenomenal relationship skills. They promote other LOL’s and look for strong characteristics of behavior, core values and deportment skills in meetings or presentations, which are valued primarily over technical abilities.

Leader of Followers lead revolutions, they are often visionaries with a deep understanding of their field, they see themselves as the gold plate standard. They have well defined views and look for direct involvement or oversight of decisions.

They are heavily orientated to the product of their organization and the intricate specific details of what it is and how it should be experienced. This is also a quality they see in others and they will often promote Individual contributors to positions of power.

They respect people who lead by example and who show a mastery of their role, it’s purpose and mission. They do not prioritize or value deportment, or coaching skills because they aren’t looking for great leaders, they seek great followers, people who “just get it” and just get it done without delegating.

The Myth about LOF’s is that they don’t scale. Sure this may be true of a weak LOF, but the best ones can grow and align organizations to a size unrivaled by any other examples in modern humanity.

LOF’s are sometimes labeled “Hard to get along with”. Their lack of focus on “soft skills” can translate to abrasiveness. LOF’s want converts, believers, and they demand commitment.

Of course there are downsides in both types of leaders. Becoming disconnected is the LOL’s biggest danger. For some LOL’s it becomes about delegating themselves out of the picture, some of them even brag that they grow other leaders to do the work because they are lazy. This is a cancer in corporate America; project managers spoon feeding teams, admin assistants who find their roles less about creating efficiency in schedule and executive function and more about pampering to the personal needs and forgetful nature of a lazy mind.

On the other hand, the biggest danger of a LOF is Egomania. We all have an ego but by becoming the gold plate standard an LOF’s ego will heavily influence the organization. The normal healthy combination of ego’s that combine to make the mutt we call ‘culture’ is prevented from forming in preference for the well-defined Pedigree that the LOF insists on. In extreme cases a cult like group can form.

Success is common to both but only when matched by circumstance;

Revolutions need LOF’s – Evolutions need LOL’s.

LOF’s are exponentially better at building things and creating something of value. It’s their vision in new products, services or concepts that make them the best entrepreneurs. If you’re a VC investor learn to recognize them and ….if you see an LOL …… RUN AWAY ! Because, if your new venture has an LOL at the top, to quote a friend who once said – “You may as well get a wheelbarrow of money and tip it into the street”.

If your board of directors is looking for a new leader to turn the ship around, without sinking it, learn to recognize an LOL. The great ones can steer struggling businesses out of difficulty and into success. Because they can recognize good leaders they are effective at cleaning up and leading large organizations– they can cure cultural problems by coaching existing leaders and recognize the ones that can stay and the ones that cannot.

It is for these reasons that leaders are equipped to succeed or fail based on simple circumstances. The people of England picked the right leader in their darkest hour but decided, in their brightest moment, to entrust their future with someone else – the wrong choice would have lead to misery.

So choose carefully, if you’re an employee, investor or shareholder your aspirations will depend on it.

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