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What is your leadership hedgehog?

Remember reading Good to Great by Jim Collins awhile back? That’s the book that encourages companies to know what they can be best at, what makes them money and what they are passionate about. It is one of the elements that propels companies to great success. What if you used this hedgehog concept to think about your own leadership?

Let’s leave money aside for the moment and focus on deep strengths and passion. How would you answer these questions?

  • No matter what my role has been and no matter what company I have worked for, what 2-3 skills do I have in spades?
  • When colleagues want my input, what is it usually about?
  • What kinds of activities (projects, teams, initiatives, people, functions) do I gravitate towards repeatedly?
  • When I seek out new learning is it to enhance a subject I already know about or is it something completely different?
  • Is there a direct connection between what I love doing and my strengths?
  • Am I really great at something I have lost the passion for?
  • Are there things that I feel passionately about that I wish were part of my work life?

There is a natural connection between interests that drive our passion and the skills we go on to develop. In fact, the two together are quite potent. But I see so many people today who experience a widening gap between what they can do well and what they want to do. Early in our careers we are still learning and honing our skills and we get loads of satisfaction from getting better and better at something. (Read Erik Erikson, the psychologist, on the impact of mastery!) We also get promoted and rewarded for that expertise. But as we ascend into leadership roles, as the great philosopher BB King would say, the thrill is gone. Enter existential angst. Should I just toss aside my strengths/success in pursuit of my passion? Is leadership a buzz kill?

One more question. Did you enter college with a deep interest in leadership and build a curriculum around learning all you could on the topic? Probably not. Even in grad school were you pursuing a passion for leadership? Maybe. Except for a few fields you probably didn’t find tons of courses on leadership skills. So even at the formal education stage you didn’t have the opportunities to learn and master leadership. In the real world, leadership is still basically an on-the-job training experience. You are promoted because you have highly developed expertise in some area and have shown good enough signs of effective leadership. And good enough isn’t good enough for most talented adults. We want to excel and leadership is one of those things that requires the same learning and experimentation that any other function does.

So that may account for why the thrill is gone. If asked what are our towering strengths leadership skills don’t often make the list…even for executives. Most of us refer to our functional expertise: numbers, technology, marketing etc. If you want to master leadership and you want to feel exhilarated by it then you need to dive into it just like you would any other subject. You need to learn, study, experiment, course correct, learn some more and practice, practice, practice. Sadly, that is not how leadership development tends to go. It is a critical success factor (for you and your company) but it is not a big investment. If you are lucky you spend a great week at the Center for Creative Leadership or meet with a coach once or twice a month or get mentored by an effective leader. More likely you are getting feedback about what you are doing wrong, high performance scores for what you are doing right and some money to spend to find a good development resource. In other words it is not the main event.

The fundamental hedgehog question is: Do you have a passion for leadership? If you do then commit to learning it so thoroughly that it becomes a significant strength. If the answer is no then you have two choices: accept that you will be an okay leader but never great or move into a different role that capitalizes on other strengths.

In terms of the third aspect…the revenue engine…I hear that if you do what you love the money will follow. Truism or new age bullshit? You decide.


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