It’s not easy to spot a leader. They are often confused with visionaries and sometimes managers. Leaders don’t always stand out, and like a good football referee, the best ones seldom make their own noise. Men like Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg aren’t leaders, they’re visionaries. They rely on other people to make their ideas happen.
Leaders are the people who convince others to get what needs to be done, done. They don’t allocate resources like managers, they don’t lay the product path down like visionaries and they don’t usually run toward the limelight. The best leaders often rely on what should be their greatest single skill: empathy.
People too often confuse empathy with either weakness or, even worse, with sympathy which then leads to pity. It’s not. Empathy in leadership is about at least understanding the difficulty of tasks you assign, presenting information in an efficient way and pausing every once in a while to take the pulse of those who count on leaders to get through their work assignments.
Empathy means you have the ability to admit when you’re wrong and the drive to actually fix it. It doesn’t mean ignoring people who disagree with you, nor does it mean you should take petty shots at anyone who does. No one likes that person.
In a time when feminine characteristics are rapidly becoming highly valued in the business world, isn’t the time of the hard-charging, balls-to-the-wall, insulated visionary in a leadership position now past?
I certainly don’t expect leaders to turn into touchy feely executives where everyone talks about why their day isn’t going well, but, in the long run, doesn’t at least a little bit of that go a long way? I bet most of the people at Apple have leaders they know empathize with them, while Google, with its more masculine buy-or-defeat approach seems to be losing their innovate edge even in their own market.
What do today’s great leaders look like? How do they act? What about tomorrow’s?