January 8, 2018 // 0 Comments

Bullish Leaders

matador and bull

Through teaching 30+ Certified Agile Leader® classes, I’ve had the opportunity to meet a large variety of leaders. I’ve met soft spoken leaders who work hard and lead by serving. I’ve met brash, over the top leaders who are all bluster and lead by being the loudest in the room. In today’s politically correct (PC) world, it’s easy to look at these two types of leaders and assume that the quiet, servant leader is the ideal model. It’s certainly a style closer to the principles that we teach at The Center For Agile Leadership. Yet, it’s hard to ignore the fact that some of the loudest and most braggadocios leaders to ever come through my classes have made their way to the top and are considered very successful leaders.

When we look at leaders we admire and emulate, everyone tends to answer with the expected values of a leader. Things like being a good communicator, humble, servant, and self-sacrificing. But we also live in a very PC world where these are the traits that are now commonly popular when we think of leaders. The reality is that the world is filled with leaders who are selfish or braggadocios or who even operate as dictators. So, if this is so far away from the ideal leadership model, how are these people being successful? How are they getting anyone to follow them?

To find the answer, you have to look past the leader and look at the team that they are trying to lead. Being that Braintrust is based in Alabama, let’s look at Nick Saban (football coach at University of Alabama). As a college coach, Saban is known for being regimented, process driven, and quite frankly a hard ass who doesn’t let anything distract him from his goals. He is unquestionably a successful leader when it comes to turning, impressionable young adults into champions. However, before his success at Alabama, Nick tried to take his same leadership approach to the NFL and had very different results (he went 15-17 in two years and was fired by the Miami Dolphins). So what the heck happened? What happened is that NFL players are different than college players. They make more money than the coaches, they get more attention than the coaches, and in most cases they have more power and influence than the coaches who lead them. All of that means that they don’t have to blindly follow every command. They don’t have to tolerate a leader who they don’t respect and trust. Instead, they respond better to servant leaders who are seen as part of the team. Leaders who defer credit back to the players; leaders who put the team ahead of themselves.

So, as you think about how to become a successful leader, I encourage you to also think about the organizational culture and the team that you are trying to lead. Does your team need someone who they can blindly trust and follow? Do they need a fierce, over the top personality to inspire them? Or does your team need a servant leader who relates to them, embraces their strengths and weaknesses, and works side by side with them to accomplish common goals?

I’d argue that there are environments where both styles are successful. The key is figuring out which one is going to work better for your team.

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