Leadership is a skill. Some have innate abilities for leadership, some pursue leadership development through their lifetime. The second part is a requirement for all categories. Because any gift you may have will get you as far as your constant effort to improve that skill.
That is why even in sports a very talented athlete is easily overtaken by a hustler, who just never gives up to improve and counterbalance his/her weaknesses.
In leadership, the same thing applies. You are not born with strong people skills, crucial in leadership. Those are constantly developed. Empathy is constantly developed. Same with communication.
And here it comes the debate. I had one the other day with one of my contacts from LinkedIn. He stated that everyone should aim to be a leader in an organization and that it’s advisable to do so. I tend to disagree. In fact, I do.
My experience from the field illustrates a different picture.
To increase the intrigue a little bit I will approach my arguments from a surprising angle. There is a significant number of people in the autism spectrum today. The most obvious denominator between all the categories, many times undiagnosed, is the poor people skills feature.
They are not well equipped with that. Even more so, many autistic people, borderline or not, are reluctant or even afraid of other people. They don’t like the constant change that comes with living with other humans. They are safe when things are stable. You can move a chair in the kitchen, or in the boardroom, and it’s like you moved them to a new house.
Imagine what an autistic person must feel when things shift in their company and they didn’t receive a previous notice to get comfortable with the change. Their leaders had no idea what a disaster they created for those folks.
And now, imagine them involved in frequent human interaction duties. For them dealing with the uncertainty that comes from relationships and open communication is a heavy burden, almost impossible to cope with.
And even though it’s hard to admit, in today’s world we have an increasing number of autistic people, with different stages of disabilities. But they have their gifts as well. And that gift can be exactly what your business needs to thrive.
In Silicon Valley where we have the tech kingdom, we have a concentration ratio of pattern thinkers from the borderline autism spectrum. If we take Temple Grandin, the most amazing autism spokesperson, she says 50% of Silicon Valley. Imagine that? It’s absolutely a stunning thought.
Just think Steve Jobs, except -- he was on the visual thinker’s side, that's why the Mac products needed to be beautiful, with curves and nice fonts.
The pattern thinkers on the other hand are amazing with math and software. It’s easy to put the two together. The most amazing tech guys, those introverts (not all) with the worst people skills could be autistic.
Now, everything good, but they shouldn’t be seated in a leadership position.
Lead -- means action with future orientation and involves people.
Manage -- includes systems, structures need to be done today and may not include people.
In case my association between autism and introverts upset you, let me clarify.
Introverts are not excluded from leadership. There are different types of introverts. Those from the autistic spectrum or the sociopathy spectrum are definitely not good in leadership.
We also have a third category of introverts, those who feel comfortable to take the corner seat, are shyer, and just prefer to be part of a group without leading. To be shy it's not equivalent to an introvert, although in many cases you can observe both features.
But there is a special kind of introverts, who by the way are very equipped with empathy, who genuinely love people and want to make great things in their lives, only that the communication style is through introspection and after a lot of consideration. This way they pour an immense sense of trust in them. People are attracted to their uniqueness while respecting their silence.
Such introverts do a trade with themselves to develop some necessary extrovert skills in order to lead, or even sale or become public speakers. It's an alter ego.
But because of their thoughtful approach, care, and consideration what they decide is mainly fair and seen as such. So their people love to be led by them.
Continuing the flow of the recent video I posted (you’ll find it below), you can be a good manager aka managing technical tasks, but that won’t make you a good leader and so innate talent and abilities should play a role when choosing from a 50% pattern thinker’s pool to interact with people.
Warning for all the tech companies out there. The same applies to engineers as well. The data doesn’t favor good leadership decision making.
The autism spectrum includes:
1) Visual thinkers - thinking in pictures, amazing visual memory very good for concept formation. Bad at algebra.
2) Pattern thinkers - great with numbers, software, music. Bad with reading and writing (many times they start late).
3) Verbal thinkers - good with writing, speaking, memorize data. Poor with visual.
The thinking patterns apply to the rest of us as well. It’s good to know what kind of thinker you are in order to find the best career for yourself.
And now that we pointed out a vast category of people who shouldn’t be placed in leadership roles, we can continue.
Other people, not on the autism spectrum are amazing practitioners and followers. Once you place them to lead they get unhappy. Not everyone wants to lead even if they say they do.
Social conditioning is a very powerful gun in today’s society. Same with entrepreneurship. Once the term entrepreneur got sexy, many employee types went to conquer the world without realizing that in practice entrepreneurship has nothing to do with them. And even if the company goes well they are still miserable.
During my years of training with companies, I noticed multiple mismatches. People rewarded with leadership roles, instead of finding more suited incentives for them, based on merit but also natural inclination. Something that makes them happy.
You can see the signs from the appointment moment. People made to lead, when they receive such a role, are so excited that you can almost see them jumping out their bodies. It’s the role they desired. Others instead of excitement show obvious anxiety signs, even though the outside anxiety and excitement sometimes look very similar. But your neurochemistry is way different.
Then another category is the confused ones. In theory, they are flattened they receive a leadership role, but very soon the people skill flaws appear.
OK. Let’s say they are just not trained. Good enough. So let’s train them. But you know what happens? They start to learn those skills but you see there is no real commitment. The level of empathy required in good leadership is lacking. You can feel it.
And the results will show. Their people are also disconnected. They are not approachable enough, and not qualified to build a functional culture in a group. Because deep inside they are one or more of these: terrified, miserable, unhappy, revengeful, and envious.
Because they left something they enjoyed more, and now they can see others enjoying their work while they are feeling trapped. A great employee, team worker, but not a leader. That type of responsibility is just not for them. And why should we force this for all?
And my examples from the field are multiple. For example, I had the chance to work with smaller companies where I was able to know all the employees as a coach, not just as a trainer. I discovered their entire inner universe, things that not even their family knew. In those sessions, I saw the real impact of role mismatch at work.
To be frank, in a standard company most of the employees could be utilized 10x better than they are.
Presumptions about their roles and what they should do, or where to be promoted without an open, transparent culture where communication is encouraged. These companies have no idea about the true potential of their workers. It’s common practice. I truly believe that most of the companies underperform based on this.
Although we should all lead our lives and have a leading role in our family and surroundings when it comes to organizations you don't want to play that card.
There are amazing practitioner followers who should be left as is to keep a good balance and happiness level.
In my view, there is nothing that can beat a company having the right people in the right roles.
Now when it comes to manager roles things are different.
Managing people is not the same as leading people, although many acts as it is. Well, it’s not.
Different structural and physiological changes are happening during leadership activities and managing ones. Your brain is constantly changing.
Without a direction and focus, you’ll get average results.
The same happens when you want to solve creative tasks while being in a manager mindset. Your creatives will be mediocre at best.
Or when you want to be a good technician but wired to a leader or manager mindset. You will be an awful technician.
Mastery comes from artistry. Creating a meaningful life with worthy accomplishments.
Wanting to excel in all fields is a possible mission if done correctly. Says someone who juggles between completely different tasks all the time without losing quality.
From a mindset point of view, your role needs to match the mindset you’re in. I prepared a video on this topic so feel free to watch it and see what happens if you apply the steps I mentioned there.
If you found value in it please share this inside your company. Share it with others! We are far away from a normal balance between the right people in the right roles. This can make or break the future for our families, companies, and society.
P.S. If you're interested in working with me feel free to contact me through this site or LinkedIn. I'd love the opportunity to speak to you!