There are plenty of smart executives in the world, but they often make poor leaders. That’s because it takes both intelligence and maturity to excel at leadership. And when I say maturity, I don’t necessarily mean age, although generally more life experience is helpful. Maturity is the ability to manage oneself in challenging situations and to balance inquiry and advocacy about how to move forward.
It’s pretty easy these days to find examples of smart business leaders who lack maturity. Look at the irresponsible, off-the-cuff comments of Donald Trump and the messy wake his business dealings have left behind. Or, on the other side of the political aisle, Alan Grayson, who has been asked by other U.S. senators to end his bid for a Florida senate seat.
For a long time, researchers at MIT Sloan have talked about a 4-Capabilities Model of Leadership. The gist was that good leaders need to be able to do four things: visioning, relating, inventing, and sense-making. Visioning means providing direction and strategy; relating means connecting with people; inventing means creating processes, systems, and structures that enable execution; and sense-making is about understanding the world as a complex, dynamic place and trying to map it out with others.
Hal Gregersen, Executive Director of the MIT Leadership Center
The title of Chief Executive Officer commonly conjures up images of a sharply dressed, smooth-talking individual who paints an inspiring, mesmerizing picture of their company in images and words. But it is underneath this veiled exterior that an organization’s real story lives.
When the Volkswagen scandal broke, my first thought went to the leaders of the company. Of course, there is the obvious question: Did former CEO Martin Winterkorn and Volkswagen America CEO Michael Horn know about the cheating (both have denied this)? But for me, a leadership scholar, the fiasco raises much more interesting questions about Winterkorn and Horn’s leadership styles: Did the CEO image or illusion they projected blind them from the realities of their own business? Did they perpetuate a culture where employees were fearful of sharing problems with those at the top? Though we may never know how much knowledge these leaders had prior to the public exposé, it is a compelling case of what can happen when leaders become too focused on an image of perfection. Rather than trying to conform to a pre-cast mold, I believe leaders should abandon their bogus two-dimensional views of leadership.