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What is Good Leadership About?



· Leadership

Good leadership is the scarcest commodity in today’s world of discontent and upheaval. Toxic leadership abounds: poor integrity and accountability, lack of adaptability and no vision for the future, poor communication skills and magical thinking, low moral standards and wishy-washy decision making, a lack of empathy and humility and no self-awareness. The list goes on…

Good leadership in a nutshell

In contrast, good leadership is, in a nutshell, about: ensuring inclusive representation that builds trust, breeds inspiration and empowers others to work together in pursuit of a common goal for the good of all. As Thomas Chamorro-Premuzic explains in his 2019 book Why So Many Incompetent Men Become Leaders, good leadership requires:

  • Intellectual capital: domain-specific expertise, experience, good judgment, and credibility.
  • Social capital (not to be confounded with mafia-like networks): the networks that, on the basis of shared norms, values and understandings, facilitate interpersonal relationships and effective cooperation and reciprocity between and among social groups.
  • Psychological capital: how an individual actually leads and whether and how s/he makes use of her/his bright side (learning ability and personality traits such as curiosity and emotional stability), her/his dark side (narcissism, psychopathy and less desirable personality traits, such as moodiness and excitability, skepticism and cynicism, and passive-aggressiveness), and their inside (self-awareness and moral compass).

But there’s a big difference between someone who exhibits the personality traits to be chosen as a leader and actually having the traits and skills to be a good leader. Good leadership is not about gushing confidence and charisma while on the campaign trail, nor is it about gender/sexual orientation or age. Confidence can easily be disguised as competence.

The trio of bad leadership traits

Thinking that you can lead and saying so doesn’t automatically translate into an ability to lead. Unfortunately, too many people tend to choose leaders by how confident they appear rather than by how confident and competent they really are. Doing so leads to choosing more-incompetent men.

Research shows that although the majority of leaders are men, they underperform when compared with female leaders. Men tend to be narcissists (have an unrealistic sense of grandiosity and superiority, are given to self-admiration and delusions about their talents and have high levels of entitlement and status-orientation), self-centered and psychopaths (lack moral inhibition and empathy, have strong antisocial tendencies and an intense desire to boast about their role, and are thrill seekers and prone to reckless behaviors).

This trio of bad leadership traits is exemplified by a majority of male political leaders today, who invariably use their overconfidence and charisma to treat leadership as a glamorous destination and a personal reward. But being overconfident leads to an excessive belief in one's own abilities and results in impaired judgment and miscalibration of probabilities. Contrary to the myth, charisma is NOT the key to leadership talent.. Although it can be a positive force during difficult times, it usually blinds people and leads them to accept unwise actions and policies.

Relying on charisma as a marker of good leadership results in choosing toxic leaders who exploit their charms and influence to manipulate their followers and grab onto power. The fact is that the most effective leaders are more persistent and humble than charismatic. They don’t focus on self-promotion or being in the spotlight. They excel in nurturing talent in others and getting them to work together.

A good leader doesn’t depend on charisma. S/he depends on a high EQ (emotional intelligence), which is what enables the three key competences of a good leader:

  • Transformational leadership: excellence as a role model and in turning a vision into an actionable plan for positive change.
  • Personal effectiveness: the ability to emotionally and socially navigate everyday interpersonal challenges successfully with self-control, resilience and empathy.
  • Self-awareness: the ability to use introspection to not only enhance self-knowledge of oneself but also other-awareness, or understanding how one’s actions affect and are perceived by others.

Jacinda Ardern: an example of good leadership

One of the best examples today of good leadership is New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who won a landslide reelection in October 2020. She didn’t win because of her smile or world approval. Those are paternalistic gender stereotypes that the mainstream press uses to minimize the qualifications of good women leaders or demean them. No, Jacinda Ardern won because she is an inspirational role model not just for women, but also for men seeking to break away from the prevalence of bad (and male-dominated) leadership.

Jacinda Ardern was reelected by a majority of New Zealanders because she has a true and tried ability to lead well: she was able to align the country in pursuit of a better, healthier future; she uses her leadership as an actual resource for the good of the nation, rather than as a symbolic title for self-aggrandizement and recognition; and her competence, integrity and aggressiveness work together toward a common national goal.

Watching America and hoping for the best

The world is watching America and holding it’s breath as it clings to hope for a positive change. The U.S. presidential election on November 3, 2020 is probably the most watched process of any this year. It will determine America's future and its place and standing in the world. This affects the rest of the world's future.

After a 4-year path from good to bad leadership, all eyes are glued to big or small screens hoping Americans are vetting the real leadership potential of the candidates with clear eyes and a clear mind. With the very integrity of the U.S. election in question, citizens around the world expect nothing less than a democratic vote. They’re hoping American voters choose the candidate that offers the path to better. If Americans ignore the existing leadership’s limitations and weaknesses, they’re doing so at their own peril and the peril of the rest of the world

The key to voting in any watershed election is psychological maturity: understanding that we can’t just want to have changed after the election; we have to want to change. This requires being clear about the leadership qualities we, as individuals, need and deserve from a President: emotional intelligence, intellectual capital, social capital, and psychological capital.

Voters, in America and everywhere else, should never forget that it takes a good leader to change direction and get the nation on a better path…as long as the nation really wants to change. In other words, good leadership starts with each individual’s ability to choose well and vote for positive change.

Astrid Ruiz Thierry, Principal, Upboost LLC

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