The Difference Between a Leader and an Asshole

Ah…retired life can be so liberating. I don’t think I’ve ever used the word “asshole” in a title, although it has too frequently been the mental, unspoken caption I’ve applied to individuals entering my life. (And I’m sure I’ve been mistaken or horribly unfair in many cases where I’ve applied the word. There are so many reasons to avoid being judgmental about people, not the least of which is that you are frequently ignorant of the context of their actions.) (I’m also wondering what impact using the word “asshole” in my title will have on the number of visitors to my blog. Clearly some individuals are using search terms on the internet that I don’t normally employ; it always amuses me when, based on my use of a particular word in a tweet, a new cohort of followers emerge, only to drift away as they come to realize I actually write more about philosophers than pornographers. But I digress…)

Anyway, yesterday I was having a fun and productive lunch and my companion noted, wisely, that the qualities that allow individuals to achieve positions of status  and thus titular leadership in an organization are not synonymous with the real qualities of leadership. (Bulletin: another problem with our personnel system has been discovered!!) But the comment got me to think whether we can articulate these two different lists of attributes. Actually, this blog is all about articulating the leadership list, so the task really is to create the “so you want to be a leader” list. But then I remembered one of the bloggers I follow has already created such a list, at least the negative version. Bob Sutton, a business professor at Stanford, has a great blog called Work Matters and a great checklist, developed with Guy Kawasaki, on asshole behavior. Many of the behaviors listed are hard and tough–just the kind of behavior an ambitious person may engage in in the struggle to the top; a sure sign that your organization is either a. immature or b. ossified is if it equates being hard and tough with being a leader. (Which reminds me of one of my pet peeves: leadership courses that force students to watch only WAR MOVIES to learn leadership attributes. But that would be a topic for another post.) In any case, the Sutton/Kawasaki  list is excellent; I’m particularly fond of #8: Card Shark. Individuals who hoard information should be disqualified permanently from leadership positions.

There is a lot of great content on Sutton’s blog. I love his list of “15 things I believe in,” which runs as a side panel. Every one is a gem. Number 15 for example: work is an overrated activity.

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2 responses to “The Difference Between a Leader and an Asshole

  1. I believe effective leaders share three important qualities: vision, presence and vulnerability.

    I’ll never forget the guidance I got from my office director on my first day as a division chief, “make their work more relevant.” That vision guided me through my almost ten years in that position. I think presence needs no explanation and is reflected in many of your “Lessons from a CIA Manager (19).”

    Vulnerability, in it’s simplest terms meant having to earn other’s trust by first trusting them yourself and taking responsibility fort all the actions and activities of the group. That’s especially true when your trust has been rewarded with untrustworthy behavior,

    I’d add another that I learned from a young navy lieutenant (remember they almost never spend more than 3 years in an assignment) — Always your cohorts better at their jobs than they were were before you arrived, and the principle applied whether your position was as a leader or subordinate.

    Your blog is interesting and provocative. I wish had known you when we were in the same organization.

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