Most leadership gurus tell you half the truth, at best, about what it takes to be a leader. They will tell you about the need for vision, handling people, dealing with crises, and all the other good stuff that makes up the corporate speaking circuit. Here are 10 vital qualities you are less likely to hear them talk about: The 10 vital qualities
1 Sleeping on planes and dealing with jet lag. In any large organization, a leader will spend a large amount of time on planes: I did 250,000 miles a year. The routine was simple: one glass of champagne and one melatonin pill 40 minutes before take-off, and I would be able to sleep all the way. Business class is not for fancy meals and watching movies: it is for work or sleep.
2 Working in vehicles. If you cannot work in taxis and cars, you will waste more time than you can afford. Staring out of the window mindlessly is not good.
3 Dieting. Leaders are surrounded by biscuits, cookies, and other corporate death food; and then there are the inevitable lunches, dinners, and hotel breakfasts. Either learn to love the fruit, or start jogging. Or die early as an obese alcoholic. But to this day, some firms demand that you “put your liver on the line”: if you do not drink and entertain, you fail. Pick your diet to fit your firm.
4 Ruthless time management. Lines were invented to let leaders catch up with emails and phone calls; ditch or delegate everything they can; fix appointments around their schedule, not around other people’s.
5 Work the politics. Find the right assignments, right support, and right mentors. Set expectations well. Negotiate budgets hard. Wake up to the reality of corporate life.
6 Be ambitious, for your organization and yourself. Stretch yourself and your team to achieve more than ever; keep on learning and growing. Don’t accept excuses, and don’t be a victim: take responsibility.
7 Learn to speak well: to small groups, to individuals, and to large groups. As one tribal elder told me: “Words are like gods: words create whole new worlds in someone’s head. So use words well.” For many people, having a tooth extracted is less daunting than speaking in public. But it is a skill anyone can develop, with practice, over the years. And leaders must have this skill.
8 Be able to deal with the tantrums: be they moody receptionists, clients, or staff, while being positive and constructive all the time.
9 Learn to be unreasonable in setting goals and not accepting excuses: know how to stretch people to overachieve.
10 Have endless self-confidence and resilience, especially when disaster looms and everyone else is running around like a headless chicken: take responsibility, take control, take action, and move to the solution.
These qualities add up to a person who is pretty driven. Leaders are often not comfortable people to be with. Not surprisingly, many people prefer to keep their humanity and their life than make sacrifices to get to the top.
When I first started out, my boss told me: “One of the benefits of this job is that you will never suffer the rush hour. You will arrive before it and leave after it.”
And if you keep that lifestyle going for 10–20 years, you can reach the top. It was not a good choice, but at least it was a clear choice.