Pick up any newspaper, browse any website and you’ll find countless reports and features on how you can be a better leader.
This week alone I’ve read half a dozen such articles, all conflicting in advice, but each promising the answer and the holy grail to all our leadership woes.
Often, they allude to inspirational business leaders such as Steve Jobs, Elon Musk or Richard Branson, encouraging us to emulate the character traits of these individuals in order to be the next big thing in business.
My advice? Rip them up.
They are all fundamentally flawed.
Because they all fail to recognise our humanity and our own personal reality in life and at work.
Sorry to burst the bubble, but when it comes to leadership, there is no quick fix. No one-size-fits-all solution. The notion that in order to be a great leader, we need to tick boxes on a certain list of criteria is a one-way road to disappointment.
All it does is set unrealistic expectations of what we, as individuals, believe a great leader should look like, and adds extra pressure to those of us already suffering from imposter syndrome.
Let me be frank. I truly admire the brilliant business achievements and unprecedented success of all these individuals, most of whom started out from humble beginnings.
But let’s remember they are all far from perfect.
It’s widely known Jobs at times had a tyrannical and spiteful temper, and for all that is reported on Branson’s altruism and buccaneering ‘can do’ approach to challenging the status quo, there’s whispers from other camps that a lot of his achievements have been built on publicity stunts and empty, rarely fulfilled promises.
Does this make them bad business leaders?
In my opinion, no.
It does however show, that just like the rest of us, they too are human beings battling their own insecurities and demons. But by continuing the practise of putting people on pedestals, we’re just giving ourselves a bad case of hero complex and perpetuating the belief we have to be super human to achieve greatness in business.
In this unprecedented age of rapid change and acceleration, we as leaders need to recognise and accept that classic leadership models are broken. Relying on an outdated Victorian ‘great man’ philosophy that is no longer fit for purpose in the 21st Century just sets us all up to fail.
Though I can’t predict or shape the experiences or pressures each individual leader will face, I do believe there is an alternative solution. I believe our ability to lead through this present age of uncertainty will be defined by the courage and conviction we have in our humanity. If we strip back to the heart of who we are and our purpose, we can realise our true potential as individuals and leaders in life and in work.
Unpicking centuries of male dominated leadership is no mean feat, but it is possible and simpler than you think. To create this type of impact, when I work with leaders, I challenge them to ask these 3 simple questions:
Who am I?
Why am I here?
How do I lead and live?
The purpose of this is twofold. Firstly, it helps people understand the true drivers of our human behaviour, our human dilemmas. These are the inescapable aspects that sit below our beliefs and values, which make us human.
We then use these drivers to help leaders find greater courage and conviction in their identity, their purpose and, ultimately, how they practice and show leadership. The goal is to help individuals identify the personal story they have to tell that defines them, and from which they can draw strength and reset their mindset to recognise that we are all human beings leading other human beings.
How does this work in practise? Rather than use our energy trying to live up to the standards set by previous generations of so called inspirational leaders, and even those we set ourselves, we can unlock our true potential by focussing instead on our strengths and the positive contribution we can make to others.
So next time you chance across an article giving you a checklist of the things you need to do to be an effective leader, why not save yourself the time and trouble of reading something that ultimately isn’t going to help? Put your newspaper down, close your laptop and instead spend five minutes focusing on answering your own three questions. Trust me, it will be time much better spent.
For more information on Muru Leadership visit www.muruleadership.com or follow us at linkedin.com/muru-leadership
About Rob Cross
Rob is the founder and CEO of Muru – a next generation leadership coaching and development consultancy that aims to debunk redundant models of what it means to be a leader, and help individuals, teams and groups unlock their true potential.
20% psychologist, 10% agony aunt, 30% motivational speaker, 40% bullshit detector and 100% Dad and Husband, Rob’s no-nonsense approach to life and business makes him a refreshingly human leadership expert and mentor in today’s ever evolving and changing business landscape.
Bringing together his 20 years of hands on leadership, and practical experience of developing others, Rob researched, designed and launched Muru Leadership and ‘The 3 Questions’ ™. In today’s age of acceleration, where the classic definitions of being a leader are no longer working, ‘The 3 Questions’ ™ methodology helps individuals and teams build greater courage and conviction in their own leadership, empowering them to lead and achieve higher levels of success and fulfilment both at work, and in life.