How do you choose the right person for a senior executive role? The trick is to pick the candidate who'll surprise you.
Leadership can change history.
If you think about it, history almost always focuses on the leaders – presidents, prime ministers, emperors, army generals and dictators – and less about the servants, cleaners, and soldiers. But in fact the face of leadership can be as diverse as the face of all humanity, and sometimes a humble seamstress can alter the course of history.
In the racially segregated Alabama of 1955, Rosa Parks famously refused to give up her bus seat to a white passenger. Was she displaying genuine leadership, or was it an impulsive act? Can innate leadership ability be reflected in such a small, yet significant moment? Parks chose to stand behind her decision and pay a huge personal cost, including arrest and prosecution. But this single, personal act proved to be a formative event: Parks was the spark that lit the flame of widespread protest across America. Following her arrest, Baptist minister Martin Luther King, Jr., led the Montgomery bus boycott, which forced the public bus company to repeal its racial segregation policy. The rest, as they say, is history.
Leadership is mostly a matter of action and effort. It is not some mystical aura surrounding a chosen person, or even someone's captivating charisma. Instead, it is the way of coping with unpopular decisions and putting them into practice. A great leader has the ability to look ahead, see how circumstances will change, and recognize the need to participate in this change.
The Leadership Stereotype
When talking about a leader, the image that immediately springs to mind is of a person who captures your attention the moment they enter the room – someone who has an inspiring, mesmerizing presence. However, this image reflects qualities that are not necessarily essential to good leadership, but are also not contradictory. So what is actually necessary for leadership? A leader must embody a variety of traits: on the one hand, they need "hard" attributes like decision-making abilities, the ability to execute and implement decisions effectively, a dominant personality, and the ability to lead from the front. They also need certain "soft" qualities, such as patience and persistence over the long term, the ability to listen to other points of view, the ability to include other people without feeling threatened, and being aware and sensitive to their surroundings.
There are different kinds of leaders: social leaders, leaders who manage long-term situations, and leaders who come in to deal with specific crises. Different leaders come to the fore at different times and under different circumstances, but our preconceptions about leadership can sometimes hinder us when identifying the real leader an organization needs.
The Unexpected Candidate
One of the most common processes we see in groups is that, at first, people will flock to the most prominent person, but then, as time goes on, they shift their allegiances to someone else – someone who is often quiet and generally unnoticed, who does not try to attract attention. In light of this, when we try to imagine a leader, we might do well to think of a person who seems somewhat nondescript, introverted, shy, or a wallflower.
True leadership is revealed during a crisis, and this is the leader's time to shine. It is precisely then, that the "unexpected" person, who has not previously taken center stage, can emerge as a vital anchor: they will act as a mainstay for the group, providing a reference point and preventing drift.
What qualities would this "surprising" leader possess?
- Internal Compass – A leader cannot depend solely on external validation. They must have a strong inner voice and be committed, first and foremost, to their own internal principles over and above any external considerations.
- Strong Inner Self – A leader does not necessarily have a "huge ego" in the popular sense of the word, but must have a realistic self-conception and a well-established sense of self.
- Internal Integrity – A leader does not deceive themselves or those around them. For example, they will not invent some mitigating circumstance to excuse failure, or take credit for someone else's achievement.
- Authenticity – A leader cannot be someone who is anxious about their own image and conceals their weaknesses. A person who usually has no need to put on a front or an act.
- Ability to Read Situations – A leader must be able to see the bigger picture, to identify a variety of processes, people, and data points, and assemble them into a single broad overview. Leaders who do not do this cannot form an accurate assessment of the situation.
Leaders & Managers in an Organization
It is the responsibility of each organization's CEO to identify leadership potential within their subordinates and know how to nurture that potential. Each organization must learn to identify the unlikely and unexpected leaders within its ranks, as a different perspective on leadership can help to advance the organization and ensure it makes the best of its existing human capital, which already understands and is committed to its organizational culture.
At Mashabey Enosh, we believe that diversity can be key to building the optimal organization. This is why, when we look at candidates for executive roles, we take care to look at a wide variety of people, bearing in mind that leadership comes from action, strength of character, and a rich inner world – not from what you see on the surface.