(Editor’s Note: This week at #TChat Events, the TalentCulture community is looking at what it will take to prepare the next generation of leaders — regardless of current age or organizational rank. We think the following commentary by Dan Newman, author of “The Millennial CEO,” is an ideal backdrop for any discussion about what is at the core of an effective leader. What are your thoughts? We welcome your comments below.)
By definition, leadership is grounded in action and not in title. We may tend to associate leadership with professional titles — such as president or CEO. But of course, simply holding an executive title doesn’t make anyone leader. In reality, the only way to be a leader, is to lead.
Let me explain. During the past few years I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to meet and work with some fantastic business leaders. I’ve also met some individuals with great titles who couldn’t even lead a conversation about the weather, let alone a business organization. Yet somehow these people have risen to enviable professional positions. It’s impossible not to wonder — how can that happen?
Enter The “Extroleader”
One of the most interesting leadership trends I have noticed over the past several years is the emergence of the “extroleader.” What is an “extroleader,” you ask?
The term is one that I created. It applies to leaders that operate effectively as the face of an organization to the public — customers, investors and other stakeholders. The anomaly about the “extroleader” is that many of them have no internal leadership skills whatsoever.
So, while they are able to shape public opinion and they give the appearance of success to the outside world, they may not even be able to convince their assistant to schedule a lunch appointment.
Often this type of leader is driven by ego and excessive interest in personal branding, more than by interest in developing the organization and its brand.
This can be a subtle, but deadly nuance for growing organizations.
Here’s what is most interesting about this type of leader. Typically they find a way to the top because they are so capable at driving behavior outside the corporate walls. The world at-large may be enamored of an “extroleader” CEO that looks charismatic. But looks can be deceiving.
Leadership Inside Out
Great leaders are genuinely able to drive the best from everyone around them. Because they’re human, they have deficiencies, but that’s not what sets them apart. What makes them effective is their ability to make others want to be better.
For leaders in any organization, the biggest mistake is building a leadership facade that speaks to the outside world, while inside the corporate walls, your army will not fight for you. Because organizational culture is essential to achieving your business vision, you must have all hands on deck. This starts by demonstrating and reinforcing your vision, message and values within your organization.
It requires commitment to an inside-out approach — recognizing that you’ll be paid dividends by earning the respect of your team and closest stakeholders before focusing on external constituents.
A Higher Degree of Leadership Difficulty
Coming up with witty and charming content for the outside eye can be quite easy. Think about how we are often fooled or misled by politicians, athletes and media celebrities as we hang onto their every word, wanting to believe them. It’s much harder to prove yourself, day in and day out, to those with whom you work.
This is because the things you say can’t stand on their own. Others will look to see how closely your words actually match your behavior and your value system. That is critical as your team determines whether or not to follow you.
The more difficult path actually builds a more loyal following. When you prove your vision, mission and values to your team, they will fight to build and protect your organization and its brand. Ultimately, that brand will be built on a stable platform that is far sturdier than the glass house that “extroleadership” creates.
External Leadership IS OKAY!
Having said all of the above, let me clarify one important point. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being a strong outside-facing leader. In fact, an effective public “face” is an important part of growing any organization.
But here’s the key: Outside leadership must match communication and behavior within the walls of the company. It’s all about consistency.
It isn’t egomaniacal to want to create an impressive organization, if the intent is good. However, when a leader paints a picture that the employees can’t see, trust or respect, the organization will struggle endlessly to reach to its potential.
So, if you’re a leader — or if you aspire to lead — I encourage you to take a close look at the source. Ask yourself honestly: Are you looking outside, first? Or are you starting within?
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