Norman Dixon has written a book about the attributes of both competent and incompetent leaders. Interestingly enough, the list of attributes of incompetent leaders is considerably longer. His research focuses on military leaders, but leadership is (or should be) universal so I’ll share his conclusions with you anyway.
Incompetent leaders have:
- – an underestimation of the enemy (read: competition) bordering arrogance;
– a tendency to consider war (again, read competition) as a sport;
– an inaptitude to learn from past mistakes;
– a resistance versus accepting and exploiting all available and/or new tactics;
– a dislike of intelligence;
– great physical bravery but little moral courage;
– an apparent insensitivity to human life and -suffering (read: careers);
– the inclination to blame others;
– preference for the frontal assault;
– a preference for precision, hierarchy, pecking order and outward show;
– appreciation of tradition and other aspects of conservatism;
– a lack of creativity, improvisational skill, inventivity and openmindedness;
– a tendency to avoid normal risks, but at the same time accept tasks so difficult that failure is forgivable;
– a tendency to delay matters.
All in all, looking through this list, I admit that I am the proud owner of at least a handful of these attributes. I have some things to unlearn it seems.
Of course, this article would not be fair if I would not add the attributes of skillful leaders. These do (according to Norman Dixon) possess:
- – professional and intellectual competence;
– a good memory for unfinished business and a strong motivation to accomplish matters;
– a preference for a succesful onknown person over an incompetent friend when choosing associates;
– the drive go to great lengths for the wellbeing and concerns of the group or organisation he is a part of;
– the willingness to undergo psychological testing.
Frankly, I do not have all of these either. So except for unlearning things, I have some things to learn too. But this second list is far from complete. It can be complemented by the list that the Prussian high command made about the qualities required in leaders, after their defeat at the hands of Napoleon in 1807. In their officers, they wanted the following attributes:
- – able to decide independently;
– willing to take responsibility;
– able to separate main-issues from side-issues;
– character (includes leadership, courage, willpower, etc);
– constant willingness to learn, and
– being able to coach others.
These 5 and 8 attitudes together form an almost complete list of what a modern manager (or leader?) should possess. Fortunately for my employees, I see myself as having at least a few of these (that is, if I know myself well enough).
Then there’s one final aptitude a good leader or manager should have (as defined by the Prussian high command): he should be Krisenfest, able to act coherently under stress. Able to ease the people around you, to emit calmth, to absorb bad luck and to handle uncertainty.
There you go. Mirror yourself on it and if you have it all (the positive things that is) I’d be mighty interested in knowing what you do now. I know I still have some things to work on.