Want to know if you have what it takes to be a leader?

There are many ways you can process this memo from David Ogilvie, ad guru of the ages, who wrote about his weaknesses.

I wonder what you make of it?

Personally, what is see writ large is EGO. In fact, I would suggest anyone currently interviewing for a job memorise a few of those to regurgitate when asked the ‘what-are-your-weaknesses’ question.

Each one of those ‘weaknesses’ is perverted boastful claim.

I am candid to the point of indiscretion.

Really?

Translation: I will tell you the truth the way I see it, and I don’t really care if it hurts or you think it is insensitive and indiscreet.

I am intolerant of mediocrity.

Translation: I will kick your ass if you deliver mediocre work – it isn’t really about my intolerance, it is about your incompetence.

I won’t bother translating each one, but re-read it again and you will see what I mean if you didn’t read it that way the first time.

There is an important point to this, and it is about leadership.

From Kennedy to Clinton to Jobs to Branson and Bob Hawke; in each and every instance these iconic leaders had egos to match the scale of their ambitions.

  • ·         Great leaders hear their followers – but they don’t listen to them.
  • ·         Great leaders understand their customers’ needs, - but don’t give them what they want, but what they need.
  • ·         Great leaders don’t pursue a point of difference to be competitive, they do it because they know being different is how you win (and they are confident enough to own it).

In each instance the ego has to be big enough for them for them to go against the flow and do what they want and what they believe in.

A clear and compelling vision is the necessary starting point for any strategy, but it is the one thing that does not emerge from consensus and consultation – it is the first task of the leader to articulate that vision. And that requires the confidence and chutzpa that emanates from a big ego.

Some people can disguise this unpleasant necessity better than others, David Ogilvie it seems may have been one of those, but ultimately being ‘nice’ is not a leadership requirement. Hitler being one simple case in point.

The real leadership issue is however not whether you have an ego large enough, but whether you are willing to pay the price that having a big ego demands? That is; a willingness to be unpopular and the risk of being wrong.

You either have to be self-absorbed or be brave to believe your own vision and back your own ego. The self-absorbed leaders are the poor leaders and the brave ones are the good ones.

I hope you work for a brave leader, because the ego of a self-absorbed leader makes for a toxic workplace.