In Jim Collin’s book, Good to Great, he makes a challenging statement: “You have to give up what made you good to become great.”
Like most declarations, it’s dangerous to assume what’s presented is an enduring truth applicable to every situation and individual. On the one hand, there’s wisdom in venturing out of our comfort zone to achieve more than we currently are. This calls to mind that safe prediction: “If you don’t change direction you’ll end up where you’re headed.”
On the other hand, there’s often value in salvaging failure scenarios, which can—under the right circumstances—be starting points for recovery and success. This is especially true when we create an environment where "failure" is well-managed, and we learn to fail fast and get smarter in the process.
In the soon-to-be-released Thriving Leadership Development Game, based on our book Thriving in Business and Life, we analyze the pros and cons of both good and great leadership from a different perspective, proposing that the thriving leader incorporates both, as required.
The great leader often tends to be larger than life and enjoys the limelight. They have a powerful personal presence, charm and charisma; they are magnetic communicators able to enroll others to become stakeholders and help fulfill their vivid dreams.
Good leaders often seem to transcend the need to be seen; they are team players, great listeners, coaches and facilitators that create an environment of empowerment whether others shine. They may not have a compelling vision in the same way the great leader does, but they are expert at collaborating with, bringing out, and supporting the genius in others.
Both leadership styles are vital to any organization but it’s rare that they are both present in the same person . . . with any sort of dependable balance. While all of us have aspects of both, we tend to be dominant in one, yet carry the potential to develop skills in both camps.
Often, it’s some kind of unexpected event that stimulates our growth. Someone retires, is hired away, quits, or gets fired. In the ensuring personnel shuffle, you may suddenly find yourself called upon to function differently, with different people, performing different duties, doing different tasks.
Sometimes the training provided is adequate, often it’s not. Here are four tips for leveraging this challenge to develop both good and great leadership qualities.
1. Take time to create a clear vision about the ideal outcome for your new situation. Harnessing your imagination like this generates a sense of adventure and activates parts of your brain that are otherwise overpowered by linear habits of “getting things done.” This is a practice the great leader cultivates.
2. Assess your new situation very carefully and solicit input from a variety of colleagues, to gain a broad, varied, and realistic snapshot of what you’ve inherited and what the expectations are. This helps you identify key resources and potential allies.
3. Invite help; it’s not a sign of weakness. In our Western culture we struggle with concepts about personal power, gradually overcoming the legacy of macho models—the Lone Ranger Syndrome—they myth of a take-charge leader who is wholly self-sufficient. Good leaders invite help, they engage with others and develop effective teams, rather than just give orders.
4. Model the power of what we call “Quantum Responsibility. Someone needs to make decisions and accept responsibility for the outcomes. That’s you but not you alone, if you’ve also engaged others so that it’s “we” not “me” who’s bought in and fully engaged in the desired outcome. Here’s where the qualities of both good and great come together, to actually get things done in a way that builds effective teams.
The thriving leader blends together the qualities of good and great, to provide what’s appropriate in every situation. To accomplish this takes a heightened degree of self-inquiry and honesty with others. Just as it’s not a sign of weakness to ask for help, admitting your mistakes, owning what went wrong, and inviting feedback tends to encourage those you work with to trust you and to dare accessing and growing their own leadership skills, rather than safely following along behind and collecting their pay checks.
The best teams develop where the balance between good and great is held collectively and everyone feels welcome to contribute and grow beyond their personal comfort zones. Working environments like that encourage everyone to be their best and constantly expand their capacities.
Who wouldn’t want to work in an environment like that? Here’s who would and does: potential thriving leaders.
Here’s your thriving challenge for the week:
Consider your personal leadership style to determine
if you are primarily a good or a great leader.
Throughout the week, as situations present themselves
that call for leadership, notice which qualities are
needed—from yourself and from others—and make choices
that help balance and grow both, for you and your team members.
Christopher Harding and Will Wilkinson