Immature Leaders Go Off Like Milk

You find them in all spheres of society – in cubicles, on the shop floor, on the sports field, in the marching crowd of protesters, as huge as in the CEO-chair, yet as small as on the nursery school playground. They are the minority group of people impacting on the majority of society – whether positive or negative – but they are of one breed: the leaders. However, the real leaders – those who make it to be examples in the business bestsellers – have one particular commonality that is easy to spot: MATURITY. Maturity developed by the ability to make sense out of hardships while average people merely endure them. Maturity developed by the ability to comprehend the limitless abstract more than the average majority merely understands the limitation of the concrete. Maturity developed by the insight that people always have significantly more to offer than spreadsheets and checklists. Maturity developed by the ability to manage oneself first before leading others. These are the real leaders…

Mature leaders deal in intangibles

Communication. Perception. Future. Vision. Dreams. Risk. Body language. These are the conceptual elements found in the minds of the leaders – the nutrition of their mental processes. They don’t fear the complexity or insecurity of the abstract as they have developed the ability to give structure to the unstructured. Even more – they have the extraordinary ability to convert complexity into simplicity, because they know that implementation depends on clear understanding.

That’s why leaders give much attention to intangibles – making sure that in every cubicle there is an understanding where the company destiny lies; that all company communication installs trust in the people and that everything translates into implementation.

Leaders not only deal in intangibles – they really understand them. In addition, they ensure that the complex and symbolic become understandable, inspiring and implementable.

Mature leaders manage themselves before they attempt to lead others

A few daily disciplines: Choosing the difficult right over the easy wrong. Self-understanding. Emotional intelligence. These are the inherent attributes found in the core of the leaders’ character. These days Emotional Intelligence is the buzz word in the business world and one can describe it as the ability to recognize and manage one’s own feelings and the feelings of other people, as well as the ability to energize oneself.

The fact that mature leaders should manage themselves before they attempt to lead their people is summarized well by Tony Blair: “I do not seek unpopularity as a badge of honour, but sometimes it is the price of leadership and the cost of conviction”

Leaders understand that they can’t have a handle on other people if they don’t have a handle on themselves. Dr. Daniel Goleman, author of Working with Emotional Intelligence, emphasizes that superior leadership requires a combination of both emotional and technical abilities. IQ is merely the entry point into any new position, but it doesn’t guarantee outstanding leadership. For any leader the ultimate competitive advantage is emotional intelligence. As Tom Crane (“The Heart of Coaching“) puts it: “My behaviour determines my emotions; my habits develop my behaviour; my will dictates my habits; my character directs my will.”

Leaders even know their own limitations before others have to point it out. Wisely they then surround themselves with people that can compliment both their strengths and weaknesses. They have the emotional intelligence to know that no one is indispensable and to keep their own egos in check.

Mature leaders follow a human asset approach

Leaders must teach themselves to lead their human assets with the same zeal that they devote to their financial assets.” To do so, leaders will have to become life long students of human nature and clearly understand what makes people tick and what makes them stick. As the old saying goes: “If I say that I’m a leader and no one is following me, I’m not a leader, I’m merely out for a walk!”

Mature leaders don’t push – they motivate; they don’t control – they coach and evoke commitment; they don’t dictate – they inspire; they don’t prescribe – they stimulate creativity and empowerment. Above all, mature leaders bind themselves emotionally to their followers by means of the most vulnerable element of all – trust. They affirm the faith of their followers.

Leaders don’t compromise personality and principles but they vary their styles to be culturally flexible. They influence rather than control and build core competency amid diversity. Mature leaders possess the invaluable mindset that no academic institution can ultimately provide – that of the daily coaching, teaching and mentoring of their people.

Mature Leaders leave footprints

Leaders leave something behind. They live for that. That’s why they start a new assignment by asking: “What would be my number one regret if I had to leave without achieving it?” And then they sacrifice personally to live up to this legacy.

They don’t just merely leave an organization with sound financials and market shares. No, much more – they leave behind newly developed leaders, sustained influence, a culture of learning and development and lasting values. Mature leaders live out their highest calling and leave behind intrinsically motivated people, who continue to multiply themselves into more mature leaders.

Mature Leaders recognize their expiry dates

Everybody has an expiry date. A mature leader has the insight to see it coming and still feel secure about it. When they get to that corporate crossroad, they do not shy away from knowing what to win, what to lose or what to trade. This is normally the point, where they can stay and hold the company hostage to their ego, or move on to give newly developed leaders the opportunity to change things for the better and lead the organizations to new heights.

Mature leaders know when to lead, when to follow and when to get out of the way. Immature leaders just go off like milk!

This article was first published in Acumen Magazine, 3rd Quarter, 2004.

© 2005 – 2015, Estienne de Beer. All rights reserved.

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