Five Things You Don’t Need to Lead

It may seem as though the summer has just begun, but in a few short weeks, the summer section at Target will be replaced with crayons, backpacks, and #2 pencils as kids prepare to head back to school. My own daughter will be heading to Kindergarten this fall, which means we’re pouring over Kindergarten Readiness checklists and school supply shopping lists to make sure she’s ready for her first day. As I looked over the remaining skills she needs to acquire before school starts, I started envisioning what a Leadership Readiness list would look like. Much like school supply shopping lists these days, it would likely be unnecessarily long and expensive. We don’t always need the 64-count box of crayons to create a beautiful picture. When we over-complicate the list of requirements, we lose sight of the essentials.

Here are five things leaders don’t need in order to lead:

  • Charisma. Charismatic leaders are engaging individuals who are highly skilled at communicating a vision, evoking emotion, and inspiring others to join their mission. Their positive energy and interpersonal connections can be incredibly effective for motivating others to carry out their daily tasks. These leaders excel at creating legions of followers with unwavering commitment. This degree of power can be dangerous, though. In fact, most cult leaders are considered charismatic leaders. The charismatic power of persuasion can be used for good or evil and it all comes down to strategy. The tech industry is full of wildly successful leaders who lack charisma, yet lead legions of committed followers based on their vision and strategy. One cannot lead based on charisma alone.
  • Authority. If your neighbor’s house caught on fire, would you knock on the door and ask permission to put out the flames? Of course not. And you wouldn’t choose not to operate a hose because you lack a fireman title. It doesn’t require permission or a title to take the lead on solving a problem. Anyone in the organization can lead by doing the right thing and setting an example for others. It doesn’t take formal authority to influence others, be authentic, and make impact. Individuals who aggressively pursue good and excellence often find that they’re not alone in their endeavors. Being someone worth following can be more powerful than any organizational chart.
  • A Team. In a boat race, the coxswain leading a full team of eight rowers will have the upper-hand over a partially staffed boat. However, if all the rowers suddenly became incapacitated, the coxswain must still steer the boat and take on responsibility for paddling toward the finish line. When there are no followers in sight, great leaders roll up their still find a way to accomplish their goals without excuses.
  • Experience. While it’s unlikely a job posting would say “Leadership Position Available- No Experience Necessary,” we must be careful how much confidence we place on previous experience. Experience is a double-edged sword. Certainly, experience can save us from making disastrous mistakes, but it can also narrow our perspective and minimize the risks we’re willing to take. Experience can create cynicism and negative thinking. The “we’ve been there, tried that, and it won’t work” mentality is often proven wrong by outsiders who are bold enough to try something new.
  • Knowing Everything. Leaders who believe they need to be decisive and have an answer for every problem set themselves up for failure. No one has all the answers. And while it can be uncomfortable saying the phrase “I don’t know,” it can be an incredibly smart move. No leader needs to know the answer to every question or problem, they just need to be able to ask the right questions of the right people. A leader who is willing to say “I don’t know” is also someone willing to accept that they are not the smartest person in the room. They are more likely to be open to new ideas and entertain the contributions of others.

While the Leadership Supply List may not include titles, power, or answers, there are a few items that are mandatory. Character, vision, compassion, selflessness, and drive are a few of the basic needs every leader should have in their backpack to start off on the right foot.