As long as there are writers on the topic of leadership, there will be a debate about what qualities strong leaders should possess. I have also tossed in my offering to this list in earlier blogs and articles. The problem for all of us who think we “know” what it takes to be a successful leader is that most of our lists are somewhat dependent on context. In other words, of all of the possible characteristics successful leaders may hold, some will be successful with one set of characteristics while others will be successful primarily on the strengths of an entirely different set.
This is o.k. of course and why leadership is not really a robotic task. It takes the unique combination of strengths, talents and experiences of a leader to make leadership truly authentic for him or her. And that’s a great thing. To think that there is somehow a magic formula of just enough of one plus just enough of another is fairly ridiculous.
Having said that, I just reread an article by Marshall Goldsmith that I've spoken about before in another blog, called “Leading New Age Professionals” and published in the book “The Leader of the Future 2.” In this article, Goldsmith doesn’t try to tell us which qualities of a leader will make us successful (although like me, he has done that earlier as well), but he points out an even more important issue. Given the generation of followers, Goldsmith argues that the role of the leader rather than the specific characteristics, will drive success in the future. Specifically, Goldsmith states that success will be based on what the leader provides, not what the leader possesses.
I really like the idea that a leader is defined by what she or he provides rather than by how she or he is. This puts an interesting cast on the ridiculous nature of leaders that we read about in the news who not only apparently lack integrity but are so self-focused that they provide little or nothing to their constituent followers (Anthony Weiner being only the latest example).
What do you think? Are we wrong in talking so much about the characteristics of a leader? Are we looking at the wrong thing?