You know that quote about how leaders are made, not born? I’m not sure I believe that to be the case. Sure, anyone can become a “B” quality leader, but the best leaders are people who just have something in them that I’ve never had and I never will have.
The hardest part is being able to so easily break out the qualities that I believe it takes to be a leader and look at why I can never achieve these qualities.
1. A Great Leader has The Ability to Say Exactly What She Wants to Say… in as few words as possible
I’m naturally, howdoyousay, verbose. While in writing this verbosity can come off eloquent, in person I am a rambling mess. While I can certain optimize my speech and communication skills, it takes all of my energy, as someone with ADHD, to be able to follow my own train of thought, store relevant comments, and hold them for just the right moment to share them, while also following what everyone else is saying. Typically the scenerio is that I have so much on my mind that either I hold it all in, say nothing at all, and feel frustrated about it — or more often I just blurt out what I feel needs to be said. The thing is, in my world, there is never a good or right time to talk. Unless I literally raise my hand and wait my turn to be called on, I don’t feel comfortable jumping into conversations. I acknowledge that 50% of the time I’m oversharing or overasking, but sometimes I do have good, relevant questions. The problem is that once you’ve shown that you suck at communication, no matter what you say, you’ll never really be listened to again. A great leader never runs into this massive road block in the first place.
2. A Great Leader Can Say No with Authority and Doesn’t Have to Explain Why
The best leaders are so confident that they can navigate the complex world of office politics and prioritization with ease, or at least it seems so “above the water.” When she says no to a project or ask, it’s clear that she has done so for a long line of really good reasons. Simply said, she has her shit together, and whenever she’s asked to explain something she’s able to quickly process her thoughts to output a very clear, simple statement that is taken and accepted as the way it has to be.
3. A Great Leader isn’t an Artist
Leaders cannot be perfectionists — unless they are Steve Jobs and even then there’s a balance of business savvy and communication skills that makes that level of OCD-ism acceptable to certain followers. But 99.999% of leaders are not setting out to create art everyday in everything they do. They do the bare minimum possible to reach the best possible results and move on. Quite frankly, they do not invest so much of their heart and soul into everything they do, because if they did, it would crush them. On the Myers Briggs scale, they rank low on the “Feeling” type. They rule their world by logic, efficiency, and the fastest, most acceptable route to success.
4. A Great Leader Loves to Delegate and Take Credit for Other’s Work
The best leaders know that their success is built on top of the shoulders of an amazing team. Sure, they may have hired and motivated that team to do their best work, but ultimately the success of any given leader is the result of all that work going on behind the magic curtain. I mean, just look at politicians – while they have a natural ability to speak with confidence and to only say the bare minimum, they also have a team of experts advising them on what to say, what to wear, how to move, et al. Leaders are only as effective as they are in convincing people to do a lot of work for them and to then take the majority of credit / reward for that work, all in the name of being a “great manager.”
5. A Great Leader Doesn’t Care What Other People Think
When you’re raised day after day that your opinions are wrong, that anything you think or do that conflicts with your fathers one take on every thing in the world, you get to a point early in life when you become so neurotic about what everyone else thinks and how everything you think or do is wrong that you have no hope of coming off remotely confident. What’s worse, that horrible relationship between you and your parental figures gets played out time and time again in your life, whether that’s a boss who treats you like you’re worthless or worse, you’re set up to return to that sort of mildly abusive type of relationship. It’s the only thing that feels safe and completely awful all at the same time. A great leader would never get caught in such traps. She would immediately showcase her charisma and confidence, and handle any conflict with ease. And if she messed up a small thing, she wouldn’t obsess over it for hours, letting it ruin her day. She really doesn’t give a shit what people think, unless it effects the primary goals she is aiming to achieve.
Here’s the thing. I’m not a leader. I am an operations type person as I see inefficiencies and patterns and can creatively come up with ways to fix them. I come off overly critical of others when in reality I’m much, much more critical of myself, but I can’t for the life of me provide constructive criticism without it coming off like I’m some distant cousin of satan once or twice removed. Either I’m too apologetic or too bitchy or both. I don’t know how the fuck I manage to be both but I do. And every time I hear myself speak I want to fling my fist at my face and run out of the room.
So why write about all this? How does it help? I guess I keep coming back to the question of – do I HAVE to be a leader? Yes, leaders make more money, and yes, I like being in charge (to an extent) and yes, I prefer to lead then to follow bad leadership, but — I’ve never really been a leader even in leadership type roles. I’m always some peon who speaks out of turn and accidentally misses a typo in an email that was blasted out or who can’t multi-task a dozen projects at once and effectively delegate/complete them all without feeling like I needed to have my hand in everything.
It’s challenging to go from being raised focusing on art – where the details matter and you’re supposed to spend time to make things the way you want – to a life where the real world is all about just good enough, not giving a fuck, as my friend puts it, and just getting through another day. It’s sad to me if that’s all life is. I want to care. I know at the end of the day certain things don’t matter… and certainly at the end of the year who will even remember whether something was flawlessly executed or just a step above half assed? I’m not sure. I just know that I have entered a level of stress I haven’t experienced before because this time around I really do care. I care and I love the opportunity on a lot of levels and I want more than anything to be successful. But without having this innate ability to be a leader, I’m not sure how long I can last faking it.