The Five Skills of Great Leaders
One day in 1671, Christopher Wren, at the time the most famous architect in the world, came across three bricklayers working to rebuild St. Paul’s Cathedral after it had burned to the ground following the Great Fire of London. Wren asked them each, “What are you doing?” The first said he was laying bricks, and the second said he was building a wall. The third man said, “I am building a great cathedral.” The story left me wondering if, in the same way a giant load of bricks can be assembled to create a great cathedral, there is a set of building blocks to leadership, each one simple, which together could build the equivalent of a cathedral?
Having directly observed hundreds of successful leaders, I reject the theory that entrepreneurs are born a certain way. This does not suggest that every so often an Abraham Lincoln or Steve Jobs enter the world stage. But these exceptions are of little use to the tens of thousands of the rest of us who want to lead our organizations through ordinary times. A Google search for “characteristics of entrepreneurs,” creates over 350 million results, most of which are platitudinous: creative, passionate, motivated, resourceful, confident, and dedicated. These lists suggest a personality type. You either are the right variety, or you’re not. But how can that be true given the enormous personality variation within the body of skilled entrepreneurs and leaders. Some are terrible public speakers, while others earn standing ovations. I know as many successful leaders who present as introverts as extroverts. These bromides imply that what you need to succeed are a set of attributes, mostly awarded to you at birth, and the rest comes to you naturally. Not only is this inaccurate, but these short-cut theories lead some to believe they already have the “right stuff,” seducing them into bypassing the hard work of learning, and then applying, a set of skills.