Leaders Are Nice Guys? Please!

Jimmy Citrin and Rick Smith believe that nice guys finish first. Here's their argument based on their own research.

The most successful leaders focus on the success of others. They create an environment where the best performers want to work, perform at peak levels, and remain loyal. In turn, the leader is carried upward by the performance of those working with him.

These successful leaders are not perceived as being overly self-interested. 90% are concerned about the careers of their subordinates as much as or more than their own. The aggressive executive represents less than 1 in 20.

Ed Woolard, a Dupont chairman and CEO said, "A good B player can surround himself with a lot of A's. My job was really just to nurture them and make them successful." (via Fouroboros 3/4 down the page)

Hmm. I've been thinking about leaders too. And, here's what I've come up with.

Leaders are people who aren't overly "sensitive". They don't mind telling other people what to do and even bossing people around. And, they don't mind making mistakes. Political and military leaders can send young guys into battle and have them die, sometimes stupidly, and then maybe lose a few nights sleep over it, but that's all.

You might think that I'm making these people sound crass. But, there are lessons in their examples from which we can all learn. For instance, that it doesn't pay to be too concerned about problems. They are leaders because they are willing to act and make mistakes and they don't feel much guilt and don't care too much if people don't like them.

I said as much in the comments section under Fouroboros posting on Benevolent Leadership and he has replied in a posting called Lumberjack or Ballerina (under the pictures of Rummy).

Fouro contends that emotion is the great driver of action. That people follow whatever they react to with a "Wow!" And that the secret of great leaders is that they have what it takes to turn people on in this way. He writes:

...sustainable leaders believe something almost metaphysical about business or their companies that's attractive to wide groups of people. That doesn't mean they're freaked-out arm wavers or gurus. They just show people futures they didn't realize they had, even if their sole contribution is to just get out of their people's way and enable them to create those futures.

...Sometimes you have to put people on point or sacrifice... them, although it's very rare that that is a first, second or even third resort, unless you've been very derelict in your duties. Still, if and when it has to happen, people will assent to being asked to suffer. And do it willingly. But only if it's in aid of an abstract shared ideal that they're serving, rather than...a balance sheet.

To clarify, I wasn't saying that the mailed fist is the first tool any leader turns to. Nor did I say that they are completely heartless, though I can see how that was implied.

My point was that leaders are willing to command and that many want to do so. And, also, that they are willing to take painful action without suffering too much stress, even when the pain is suffered by someone else. Which is something many people would be afraid to do.

I was thinking here of political / military leaders I've read about. Lenin, Golda Meir and Dubya come readily to mind. Do you remember last year, when Bob Woodward's book about George W came out? It was widely reported and with great interest that he lost some sleep over the decision to go to war. As if that was something amazing. It's not what a leader is expected to do. It showed that he was a bit "normal".

I consider Clinton a leader in this regard, too. As soon as the Lewinsky scandal hit the papers I thought he would have to fold up his cards and go. That's what I would have done. But, whatever you think of this guy, he fought like hell and survived.

And, just yesterday, I saw Europundits praising Tony Blair for defending his position "like a lion" in the House of Commons.

These guys have guts. And, it's just not possible that their "courage" could manifest itself in this way if it had to struggle against tremendous counter-emotions to see the light of day. They have to have nerves of steel or, perhaps the equivalent, a thick skin.

I was also thinking about a more personal experience. I meet once a month for a discussion over dinner with a group of guys I've know for some time. Sometimes, we have organizational issues and we have to make decisions as to what we are going to do.

I have to admit that my voice is rarely heard. But, the mopes tend to listen to The Great Chimp. He's smart, speaks well and sounds as if he's in command. He's inclined to be arrogant and bossy - and this might be an Achilles Heel - but, even so, it's a manifestation of the easy readiness to impose and oppose that I suspect comes naturally to those who take a leading role in any group where action is required.

Actually, if you read them together, my comments and Fouro's make a leader sound, more than anything else, like an extraordinary sales person. He can "show people futures" they didn't see before, knows when to get out of the way, and is not afraid to move ahead even when there is a risk that other people will dislike him, or her, for doing so.

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