By Executive Scheduling Associates CEO Mitch Santala -
I have concluded there is no single personality profile for a great leader. There are successful, evergreen practices we can copy from those who excel in this role. But leaders come in all shapes, personalities, and gifts, sometimes fitting our stereotype and often breaking that mold.
For example, we see communication skills as an essential tool for those who lead. That is until we watch the motion picture The King's Speech (2010) and discover that the courageous, royal leader who helped sustain the people of Great Britain during Hitler's World War II onslaught, King George VI, had a significant speech impediment. He led well in values and deeds, not so much in words.
I was reminded of these leadership variables while talking to Brett, one of the most successful financial wholesalers served by our company, Executive Scheduling Associates (ESA). Our conversation began with my inquiry about why leaders like him risk everything on their ability to achieve business success while others prefer to follow another.
He responded that his first salaried position after college was as a pilot. Almost immediately, he discovered that he performed better when controlling his circumstances. "I have a strong desire to think outside the box, create the vision, implement the solution, and then drive that vision to completion," he said. Since that turning point 35 years ago, he continued, "I've never had a paycheck unless it was something I created myself."
Another leadership variable that surfaced during our conversation was the differing levels of interest people experience in competitive activities.
Tongue-in-cheek and with a broad smile, Brett said, "My philosophy has always been second place is nothing greater than the first loser." He laughed and continued, "I struggle with NASCAR because they celebrate victory all the way back to 10th place. I'm sorry, but if you weren't first, you lost."
"I look at the numbers every day, every week," he continued. "If mine aren't trending up toward the top, then that's on me. And I want to see my name at the top."
My friend was quick to point out that each of us can find success even though these personality traits differ.
"I truly believe everybody has it in them," he said. "Yes, there are people who are born with more talent or maybe intellectual genius. I was not blessed with either. So my pathway to success came down to hard work."
Then he added another common denominator to successful leadership. "You have to find a passion. And if you have passion, then your work is not like working."
Brett and I shared stories about yet another aspect of successful leadership we believe is universal – finding mentors to help fill in our knowledge and experience gaps. As is his whimsical style, he talked with humility and good humor.
"The IQ of the financial services industry took about a three-point dip when I joined. I am not the smartest one in the room. But I can spot the best. And I can surround myself with them and collaborate. I want my weaknesses to become my strengths through the knowledge and inspiration that I gain from people that are better than me."
"I've always believed in mentorship," he added. "And I love study groups. I look for mentors who are where I want to be and study groups filled with people who know more than me. I want a challenge. It may take me longer to learn something, but no one has accomplished something that I can't."
Staying with the topic of mentors, I asked if part of his leadership approach is mentoring those who work with him. And I was curious if any of his mentees had surpassed him in skill and accomplishment.
"I've been blessed during the past 30 years to coach and mentor many and watch them become better than me,” he said. “That is one of the most significant rewards of my career. My greatest passion is inspiring people to become better than they are at the moment. If I surround myself with talented people and they surpass me as they accomplish their goals, chances are those team members are also pushing me toward mine."
Brett reminded me that we are both different and the same whether we lead in our homes or as project heads or executives. There must always be some measure of internal fire, a compelling reason, a cause that drives us. But that passion might look different when expressed by an introvert or an extrovert. Yes, all leaders must communicate. But there are more ways to connect with people than mere words.