Nearly ninety years ago, ‘Sybil’, a pseudonym for the first woman discovered to possess as many as 16 distinct personalities (the actual number is up for debate), was never put in a position of leadership. I have a theory that she may have been a very effective leader in many ways.

Leaders today have many conflicting expectations thrust upon them not only in terms of performance but in terms of the behaviors they exhibit day to day and even hour to hour. We certainly have deified leaders and their roles in the past. The aura of power and omnipotence certainly lingers in certain industries and organizations, but that era is passing. As human beings, we are all fallible. Period.  This fallibility plays out on so many occasions, as, more often than not, leaders’ mistakes are amplified and become more common knowledge than the mistakes made from those who are not in leadership roles. Due to the conflicting nature of all these expectations, errors have to be expected.

In public companies, there has always been a somewhat unhealthy tension between the short term quarterly performance expectations and the longer term more strategic goals of the corporation. Yes, the most seasoned of CEO’s and their Boards can certainly manage to satisfy both sets of metrics more often than not, but it usually comes at a cost of sacrificing one or the other, often in alternating fashion. That adds fuel to the truly schizophrenic nature of the personality traits needed to ensure success.

See if you recognize the following expectations of dichotomous behavior for those who are in leadership positions today…

A truly “effective” leader today needs to be…

…Confident and in possession of a healthy ego…Yet…Humble and self-effacing…

…Decisive…Yet…Balanced, objective and thoughtful – not rushing to judgment…

…Experienced…Yet…In possession of new and fresh thinking…

…Brilliant…Yet…Empathetic and down to earth, able to understand ‘common folk’ issues…

…A strategic thinker…Yet…A master of details…

…Strong…Yet…Able to show a soft side and admit to mistakes…

…Resolute and opinionated…Yet…Flexible and an effective listener…

…A great communicator / sociable…Yet…Highly discrete…

…In possession of a great ‘gut’ feel…Yet…Highly analytical…

…Able to effectively delegate…Yet…Able to determine the pulse across the entire organization…

…In possession of a sense of infallibility…Yet…An openly flawed human being…

 

You would be labeled a raving lunatic (or severely psychotic like ‘Sybil’ was diagnosed in the 1920’s) to be able to behave across all the spectra described above.

Personally, I believe we are heaping way too many unrealistic expectations on leaders’ shoulders today. Leaders, especially CEO’s, are not given enough time to re-shape an organization, redefine the strategy and the culture and then have all that work take hold. This takes some modicum of patience; certainly mistakes will be made and yet we cannot expect leaders to be able to morph between each of these conflicting pairs of competencies and character traits all day long. That’s why all senior teams need to be well rounded and complement each other.

Maybe ‘Sybil’ should have been a CEO after all…

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