I’ve often said that quintessential leadership is an art. It can be learned by anyone, but some of us are more naturally inclined by personality, temperament, perspective, and experience to being quintessential leaders. For us, it’s an extension of who and what we are.

For those to whom this doesn’t come naturally, it’s hard work a lot of the time. But, no matter how we’re naturally constructed, this is not impossible work for anyone.

Whether we become quintessential leaders depends on whether we want to be and whether we’re committed to it no matter what and we diligently apply and grow in that commitment, with the evidence of that clearly visible in who and what we’re becoming.

So let’s talk about a few tangible ways that quintessential leaders think and do differently from others. I will be identifying and discussing these from time to time and today’s post is the first discussion.

All of these should be things that each of us looks at in our own leadership mirrors to see how much we’re reflecting them. If the reflection is clear, then we need to continue to keep that clear. If it’s dim or absent, then we’ve still got a lot of work to do.

Spoiler alert: we all still have a lot of work to do. None of us are perfect at any of these all the time.

However, these are a few of the baseline benchmarks against which we should routinely measure, in-depth, how our journey to quintessential leadership is going: where we’ve been, where we are, and where we need to go.

One of the ways that quintessential leaders think – and do – differently than others is from a team perspective (we) instead of an individual perspective (I).

This is more than just acknowledging other people and giving lip-service to the idea of a team. It involves seeing the big picture, understanding what is needed and consciously and carefully building a team that has the combined abilities to successfully fill those needs.

No one is superfluous and no one is dead weight. Each person has a vital role that he or she must fill. That role is defined, acknowledged, recognized, and has full accountability and responsibility attached to it.

Another way that quintessential leaders think – and do – differently from others is from an alignment perspective instead of a control perspective.

We all should know by now that controlling is a sign of unquintessential leadership. However, we may not recognize that part of control is having and keeping people and strengths/talents/abilities misaligned so that repeated failure is the outcome.

controlling unquintessential leadershipThis is not always a conscious form of control, but it is a result of the need to control things to the extent of not being able to step back and ask the question “why isn’t this working?” and then taking the risk of change in terms of the process and realigning people so that the process and they can be successful.

People who need to control other people and things are success-averse when it comes to anyone but themselves. There is a basic fear that someone else’s success will make them look bad or that others will see their weaknesses and they will no longer be in a position of control.

This is, from an organizational perspective, a sure way to ensure organizational failure. Nobody likes to be controlled. Most people will either fight it by sabotage and resistance, while others – and usually these are the people with the most talent and the most to offer an organization – will leave for another organization to try to find alignment instead of control.

A third way that quintessential leaders think – and do – differently from others is in how they deal with issues and problems. Quintessential leaders look for and handle the root causes instead of just fire-fighting the symptoms.

If you want to see examples of fire-fighting symptoms instead of finding the root causes and fixing them, consider Target, Neiman Marcus, and the other retailers (who haven’t even fessed up yet) that have been hit by the recent card-swiping hack from Russia. This is what it looks like in action.

First, the hacks occurred several weeks before these two companies went public (even though they knew about them when they occurred). When Target and Neiman Marcus did go public, they didn’t acknowledge any culpability on their parts, nor were they honest and transparent about the extent (in terms of numbers and information accessed) of the breach. (I will guarantee you that you will never hear the entire truth from either company.)

fire-fighting symptoms quintessential leaders find and fix root causesIn typical fire-fighting mode, both companies put the responsibility for protecting their customers from identity theft on the customers (although Target at least offered free credit monitoring for a specific period of time – another fire-fighter response).

You may wonder why these are fire-fighter responses. Let me explain.

All that both companies have done is address symptoms. Neither CEO has addressed the root cause which is Target’s and Neiman Marcus’s data/digital vulnerabilities that enabled the successful hack in the first place. Neither CEO has indicated they’re throwing all their IT resources at locking their systems down to be hacker-proof.

Therefore, Target customers and Neiman Marcus customers are still as susceptible to having their credit card/debit card/identity information compromised and stolen today as they were back in November 2013 when this, according to the companies, hack occurred.

The root cause has not been addressed, only the symptoms, which will keep recurring until the root cause is fixed or both companies are out of business.

A fourth way that quintessential leaders think – and do – differently than others is that they allow their teams, within well-defined parameters in terms of guidelines and goals, to learn to recognize and fix problems, issues, and obstacles instead of jumping in all the time and fixing the problems, issues, and obstacles themselves.

I’m a fixer by nature, so it would seem this might be a tough one for me. It actually isn’t, since most of what I try to fix is myself and pertains to me personally.

I had the benefit of parents who didn’t immediately jump in and rescue me when I hit the hard places in life, but instead guided me through learning how to (a) not end up there in the first place, if it was my fault (and plenty of them were) and (b) once I was there, how to think critically so that I could get back on track moving forward.

That is what quintessential leaders do. If our teams don’t learn how to do this themselves – with us there as guides and coaches – then they will always be dependent on us to figure out how to get unstuck and that’s all we’ll be spending our time doing.

However, if we give our teams the freedom and the responsibility for thinking about and finding fixes themselves, then we’ve made them independent and able to function without us (because at some point in time, they will be without us and they will need to know how to be without us).

One of the unexpected benefits of giving our teams this ability and freedom is that often we can learn a better way ourselves of handling the tough and stuck places by observing how they do it.

  1. iammarchhare says:

    I don’t know if I completely agree with the Target assessment. I know a lot of people are being hard on them, but without further evidence I am not among that group. For one thing, it was not weeks but two days after discovering the problem that they called in law enforcement. AFAIK, Neiman Marcus took a lot longer to even discover the breach (months, in fact), but they did begin alerting customers soon afterwards.

    Frankly, though, I blame the majority of the problem on the credit card companies. There are alternatives, like the smart chip that most of Europe already uses, but they won’t do it because of “cost”. Up to this point, they have gotten away with it because the banks and financial institutions have been in bed with our legislators for so long that they wield most of the power.

    However, Target and the others hit by this and recent instances, now have the limelight. They can show their quintessential leadership, IMO, by pushing back on the credit card companies hard before the light dims. They can even publicize how outdated our systems are and lobby on behalf on not just the customers who are inconvenienced by all of this but for themselves, for it surely affects their bottom line as well.

    The real question is whether or not they will.


  2. iammarchhare says:

    Also, I meant to say that if quintessential leadership is an art, then it only has a few masters, much like the other arts. It takes lots of patience, and “practice, practice, practice.”


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s