Leadership – a few important additions

{The following is a previously-unpublished letter of comment regarding an online article by the President of FirstRain, Inc.}

President Herscher’s article on Huffington Post, “How to Identify Leaders in Your Company”, has prompted me to offer comments.

President Herscher: Regarding “How to Identify Leaders in Your Company”:

You probably meant to indicate, in the use of the term ‘leader’, a positive and assertive role. In reading your article, I also had in my thoughts the negative and passive role. This is the leader who is has been promoted to a position of authority, either without the characteristics you describe or with the alternative, detrimental characteristics.

‘Embracing risk’ is more appropriately termed ‘managing risk’. I understand your point – that too many people in leadership positions are risk-averse. One element of correcting this aversion is learning to how to retain control (or manage!). I may identify someone who embraces risk, but I may also find that the person does not actively work with the risk – to track it, to minimize it, and to secure its rewards.).).

‘Having followers’ is easier than it should be. Almost every manager I have known could be identified as having followers. People will follow power, or authority, or simply those who are the loudest (there is research on this topic). We would need less advice about identifying leaders if followers identified them better. Good leaders have followers who are also good leaders. As a Senior Engineer, it is important for my Technicians to communicate things that may affect my decisions and direction. I have had both good and poor Technicians, and this difference is significant. Collaborative leadership is more effective and lower in risk than hierarchical leadership. Maybe this characteristic would be more accurately termed ‘Having followers who are valuable to the company’. May we be judged by the company we keep.

I have little to offer that diverges from ‘Lead by doing and succeeding’. Many leaders (the Bizarro World versions) are identified for being good at doing the wrong things. This could include plain sycophancy, devious fact-hiding, and so forth. As you note – the good ones aren’t necessarily promoted. My best bosses have had distinctive competencies that overlapped my competencies enough that we could appreciate each other and work cooperatively with ease.

‘Putting the company first’ reminded me of the old saying that ‘all politics is local’. The company, for most employees, is their immediate department. I view your comments from that perspective, since most people don’t have enough of a view of the company to act upon that view. People who are selfish and not contributing in a professional manner are usually incapable of putting others first. Their problem is (insufficient) emotional integrity (or maturity). It is difficult for them to gain this maturity, both in general and within the scope of their employment. They are very often easy people to identify, yet they are also promoted. They may even be promoted more often that people who don’t play politics. Hence, you have directed your advice to those who often ignore a trait which is not hard to identify.

I offer another characteristic for you to include in identifying leaders: ‘Assertiveness’. The assertive person may not be the most noticeable, vocal, creative, or productive. These people will express themselves when it is needed, in a way that is appropriate, and to those who can use the contribution. They are sensitive to what they know and observe, and to what the needs are of others in the company. They act upon what they know. Those who benefit from these assertive people are saved from having to act upon what they don’t know.

Another attribute of assertive people is that, when challenged (the critical ‘challenge the organization’ that you presented), they respond. They will be offensive, not defensive. They will see opportunity, not threat.

Thanks for a good article in a short (challenging!) format.

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