Leaders Must Know Their Limitations

It has been a distinct pleasure to write and lecture on the topic of leadership for many years now. In fact, this is the latest in a series of Command Post columns dating back to early 2000. I guess that it is time to ask a very serious question. What...


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It has been a distinct pleasure to write and lecture on the topic of leadership for many years now. In fact, this is the latest in a series of Command Post columns dating back to early 2000. I guess that it is time to ask a very serious question. What type of leader are you? Seems like a simple enough question. But really, it isn't easy at all.

For you see, I am not asking you to tell me whether you are good or bad. That is not a question that any of us can answer ourselves. How good or how bad we are (or perceive ourselves to be) is a question best left to others. No, I am looking in a different direction. I am going to ask you to assess your individual skills set, a most challenging assignment.

The genesis of this column came from a dear friend's assessment of my skills as a leader. Note that I say a dear friend, because only a real friend would be bold enough to share his innermost thoughts with you. In my case, we embarked on an assessment of my personal strengths and weaknesses. For those of you have never done this, it can be a very difficult thing.

My friend came to a very interesting conclusion. After our lengthy conversation on my leadership style and skill set, he informed me that, in his opinion, I was a classic example of an idea person. His statement on this topic intrigued me. In my mind's eye, I had always seen myself as a multifaceted leader, capable and ready to handle any aspect of a leader's role.

My friend suggested that my view of myself was true, as far as it went, but suggested that it was my ability to teach leadership that was multifaceted. I was definitely not a detail person. He then went on to cite enough depressing statistics to convince me of the strength of his position.

His assessment of my talents came from a number of directions. We had worked on a variety of projects. Our interactions had gone on for a great many years. And his ability to round off some of my rough edges was a critical element in my personal success. For these reasons, I put off the urge to argue, and instead listened to what he had to say.

My friend went on to describe an idea person as an individual who was able to think at the macro level. I suggested that a better way to describe an idea person might be to state that they are people who are able to see the big picture, lay out the plan and then articulate that plan to other people. We agreed that an idea person could also be described as a visionary capable of describing their vision in a way that others could easily understand.

Once we had reached an agreement on the concept of an idea person, I paused before asking the obvious question. I wanted to gather my thoughts before pushing on. My friend then said that it seemed like I was not in a hurry to discuss the nature of what being a detail person might be. He was right about that one.

A detail person specializes in doing the unglamorous job of insuring that all of the minor details involved in making your operation work are handled. A detail person keeps the records. A detail person issues the purchase orders and follows up on the vouchers. A detail person will chastise you when you overspend your line on the budget.

These are also the people that we frequently malign as being petty bureaucrats. We say this because their penchant for order and their insistence on following the rules seems to slow down our general drive toward the future. We insist that they bend to see things our way.

As many of you who follow my work in this column and the commentary on my website www.HarryCarter.com know, it has been my way to frequently rail against all of these bean-counting people in my commentaries. So much that seemed wrong over the years came from them, so I put all of them into the same bucket and sprayed cold literary water on them. I may have been wrong.

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