Have you ever done a Google image search for the word “leader?” If you have, you’ve probably noticed a lot of mountain climbing, pointing, flag carrying, and little stick figures that look more like game tokens than they look like leaders. Throw in a person speaking in a microphone or megaphone to a crowd or to a group seated around a conference table and add a few more stick figures where all of them except for one are the same color and that is what leadership looks like. At least that is what Google Images thinks it looks like. Apparently, standing out is a prerequisite.
But, I am not sure I get a clear picture of what a leader looks like based on an image search. Actually, I am pretty sure that I don’t. But it is an interesting exercise nonetheless.
Leadership is a lot like beauty
It is in the eye of the beholder. Or, better stated, it cannot be judged objectively. Rather, it is quite subjective. What one person deems beautiful or admirable may not appeal to another in the least. And when push comes to shove, what we really find attractive may be different than what we have always said.
All through my adolescent years, I would have said that I find petite, dark-haired females the most attractive. Yet, I married a tall Nordic, blue-eyed blond. And I am really glad that I did!
Is leadership like that?
Can we envisage a new leadership look?
Perhaps it is time to reconsider how leadership looks and turn away from the “alpha male” stereotypes and look more at leadership qualities and not weigh physical qualities quite as much. The alternative is to dismiss without much thought the individuals that don’t fit our perception of what a leader looks like. In so doing we will overlook some incredible leaders.
What should we be looking for?
Emotional Intelligence — If you follow any of my writings, you could probably have guessed that would top my list. And it has. Having the emotional intelligence to contend with the challenges of the day is essential to lead organizations.
Integrity — In a culture and business climate where shortcuts and dirty dealing is the norm, real integrity stands out in stark contrast.
Clarity — I listen to a conservative radio broadcaster from time to time when I am alone in my car. He has a saying that has captivated my thinking lately. He says that he values “clarity over agreement.” I think that is a key characteristic of a good leader. They communicate with great clarity.
The cost of overlooking leaders
There is a real cost to organizations that cannot see leadership potential that is right before their eyes. Many times the existing leadership ranks are threatened by anyone who “looks” differently than they do. When they fail to recognize these emerging leaders, the organizations they lead lose out on innovation, energy, and capacity. They lose innovation which leaves them with a talent deficit to face the changing marketplace. They lose energy because most often these emerging leaders are also young leaders. And those young leaders are full of energy. And they lose out on capacity when they refuse to share the leadership load. Most leaders today are operating at peak capacity. So, to overlook leadership talent is to overlook the growth potential that is right before their eyes.
What about you?
Are you open to rethink what leadership is and what constitutes what a leader may look like that is outside of your own norm and convention? Are you able to set aside the conventional archetype and recognize leaders aren’t always cut from the same cloth as you are? And, are you willing to take a fresh look at those around you in case you may have overlooked some real leadership talent?