Just when he reached success beyond dreams, things began to implode. His critics multiplied and his allays avoided him. Stripped of authority, he was confined to an office named ‘Siberia’. Angry and confused, he left the company he founded.
“The conventional wisdom was that Steve Jobs was a great visionary but not a good businessman,” says journalist Deutschmanin his book The Second Coming of Steve Jobs. Certain leadership skills came naturally to Jobs. Other skills he had to learn. He returned to Apple in 1995. Now he was a uniter more than a rebel. He was more methodical and persistent. Jobs went on to become one of the greatest CEOs. Without the learnings of those 10 years in exile “Steve Jobs the legend” would never have happened.
This speaks of all aspiring leaders. There are some skills we excel at, yet some we fall short at. Sheer force-of-will may suffice to overcome our shortcomings at the start. For long term success we must strive to become more well-rounded.
The three traits of a well-rounded leader
There are three traits that make up a well-rounded leader: vision, charisma, and persistent execution. These choices are not arbitrary, but stem directly from the leadership styles of great CEOs and other leaders:
Every revolution starts with an idea. Visionaries generate ideas and express those ideas with great conviction. Steve Jobs and Elon Musk are visionaries. Apple, Tesla, and SpaceX — the companies led by these individuals — are lauded for vision and innovation.
Every revolution is made of people. Charismatic leaders connect with a wide variety of people and convince them to work together. Bill Clinton and Richard Branson are known for their charisma; the Clinton Foundation is legendary for winning donors, and the Virgin Group companies are well-known for excellent customer service.
Behind the excitement, revolutions are tough and long. Executors stay focused, ride out the troughs, and are prolific over a long period of time. Jeff Bezos and Jack Welch are famous for their execution skills. Both Amazon and GE are praised for building enormous and efficient inventory and production systems.
A well-rounded leader must master all three traits
Most leaders are known for their mastery of one of these traits. However none of them are inept at the other two. While he was primarily a visionary, Jobs was charismatic to the point that his audience often lost track of reality. Musk is famous for dreaming of reaching Mars, but also labors eight hours every day at each of his two companies. Bezos may be an executor, but he has a vision for Amazon for many decades to come.
Can one fall short at once of these areas and still become great? That’s much harder. Haven’t we all met “visionaries” with no support or execution? The charming “charismatic” without vision or execution may go a bit father. But their followers are often led to disarray. Perhaps the “executor” goes the farthest even without great vision or charisma. Most executors, however, end up in middle-management jobs — often working for a visionary.
You’ve seen startups fail because the founders struggle to come up with a long term vision. You’ve seen companies fail to attract talent and companies plagued with inconsistent productivity. Every time you see an organization struggle, it is because a trait the founders failed to incorporate. You don’t want that to happen to your next company.
How to master the three traits
I recently decided to take a year off to focus on personal growth. Refining the traits that will help me become a better leader was one of my objectives. I began by asking myself, where is it that I have most room to improve? I decided to start with charisma. I recommend you ask the same question yourself. Figure out where the biggest gains will come from.
Below I have summarized methods for practicing each trait. These are the most effective methods I’ve found after trying everything I could get my hands on.
Objective: Be able to build rapport and empathize with a wide variety of people. Inspire a company culture where people come to work because they feel part of a family. Learn to connect deeply with the next potential hire or the investor you come across.
* How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie — The classic!
* Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi — Great book with actionable steps.
* The Greatest Salesman in the World by Og Mandino — An allegory. Despite religious connotations, lays out a great method to grow empathy and courage.
Improv: I took improve classes 3 hours a day every weekday morning for a month. If all you learn from improv is how to ‘yes, and …’, it’s worth it.
Coaching: Coaching is a great way to learn from the experts, whether it’s public speaking or on social skills. There’s nothing like immediate feedback.
Challenging yourself: You certainly can’t master charisma alone. So throw yourself at every challenging social situation possible!
Objective: Increase productivity while maintaining balance. Cut all unnecessary actions. Be consistent over a long period of time.
* Apps/software: You want to build a flow that lets you keep your mind unclogged while tracking more things. Use Evernote or a plain old Moleskine notebook to empty your brain. Use Things or The Hit List to track and prioritize. Use Pocket to combat distractions.
* Coaching: Find the best executor in your network and ask them to mentor you. Having accountability even for a few weeks will make a big difference.
* Identity: Perhaps the most effective technique I’ve come across is to rewire my identity around being an industrious individual. A topic for a future essay.
Objective: Exercise your creativity and expand your repository to draw ideas from. Think without limits. Build the habit of wondering how to fix every nook and crack of the world.
* Read: A lot of great leaders are prolific readers. Read the classics, they have already inspired generations. Read outside your expertise, inspiration hides in the weirdest corners.
* Travel: Visit the greatest works of art, the best museums, and wonders of nature. Spend time abroad and debate contemporary issues with learned world travelers.
* Try new things: Take acting classes and dance lessons. Go surf, snowboard, and skydive. Go to Burning-Man. The list is endless!
* Friends: Always strive to be with people who inspire you. People who think big, who want to change the world.
As a person with leadership aspirations, I hope you think about where you stand with vision, charisma, and execution. Figure out where you can improve. Start taking action today. A great leader is the result of years of experience — start collecting the experience you need most.
I hope you make the leap from good to great. These are revolutionary times — there is nothing the world needs more than great leadership!