Seven Leadership Traits That The Gurus Don't Tell You

Last Updated Jul 26, 2010 6:26 AM EDT

Most leadership gurus tell you half the truth, at best, about what it takes to be a leader.

They will tell you about the need for vision, handling people, dealing with crises and all the other good stuff that makes up the corporate speaking circuit. Here are seven vital qualities you are less likely to hear them talk about:
  1. Sleeping on planes and dealing with jet lag. In any large organisation, a leader will spend a large amount of time on planes: I did 250,000 miles a year. The routine was simple: one glass of champagne and one melatonin pill forty minutes before take off, and I would be able to sleep all the way. Business class is not for fancy meals and watching movies: it is for work or sleep.
  2. Working in vehicles. If you can not work in taxis and cars, you will waste more time than you can afford. Staring out of the window mindlessly is not good.
  3. Dieting. Leaders are surrounded by biscuits, cookies and other corporate death food; and then there are the inevitable lunches, dinners and hotel breakfasts. Either learn to love the fruit, or start jogging. Or die early as an obese alcoholic. But to this day, some firms demand that you put your liver on the line: if you do not drink and entertain, you fail. Pick your diet to fit your firm.
  4. Ruthless time management: queues were invented to let leaders catch up with emails and phone calls; ditch or delegate everything you can; fix appointments around your diary, not around other people's.
  5. Work the politics. Find the right assignments, right support and right mentors. Set expectations well. Negotiate budgets hard. Wake up to the reality of corporate life.
  6. Be ambitious, for your organisation and yourself. Stretch yourself and your team to achieve more than ever; keep on learning and growing. Don't accept excuses, don't be a victim: take responsibility.
  7. Learn to speak well. To small groups, to individuals and to large groups. As one tribal elder told me: "Words are like gods: words create whole new world's in someone's head. So use words well." For many people, having a tooth extracted is less daunting than speaking in public. But it is a skill anyone can develop, with practice, over the years. And leaders must have this skill.
These seven qualities add up to a person who is pretty driven: they are often not comfortable people to be with. Not surprisingly, many people prefer to keep their humanity and their life than make the sacrifices to get to the top.

When I first started out, my boss told me: "one of the benefits of this job is that you will never suffer the rush hour. You will arrive before it and leave after it." And if you keep that lifestyle going for ten to twenty years, you can reach the top. It was not a good choice, but at least it was a clear choice.

Choose well.

(Pic: Andrew Currie cc2.0)
  • Jo Owen

    Jo Owen practises what he preaches as a leader. He has worked with over 100 of the best, and a couple of the worst, organisations in the world, has built a business in Japan; started a bank (now HBOS business banking); was a partner at Accenture and brand manager at P&G. He is a serial entrepreneur whose start-ups include top 10 graduate recruiter Teach First and Start Up, which has helped over 250 ex-offenders start their own businesses. He has and has spent seven years researching leadership, strategy and organisation in tribal societies. His books include "Tribal Business School", "How to Lead and How to Manage." He is in demand as a speaker and coach on leadership and change. His websites include Tribal Business School and Leadership Partnership

Comments