In the world of competitive sports, “style points” are the difference between winning and losing in ice skating, gymnastics, diving and bull riding. Each of these has an element of “what you do” (degree of difficulty) and “how you look doing it” (style). So looking good is important.
However, in the world of leading organizations, style points aren’t worth much—especially in the long run. Substance, not style, is what matters for leaders.
What are the telltale signs of a “looking good” leader?
Charm: being charming is a great thing. Some people just have it. (I wish I had more of it.) Charm can carry a leader a long time with a large group that sees and hears but doesn’t really know the leader, but it will soon wear thin with those who know the leader best.
Charisma: Webster’s defines charisma as “personal magic of leadership arousing special popular loyalty or enthusiasm….” The definition tells all—magic isn’t real, it is an illusion—and leaders who rely on it aren’t real.
Chatter: don’t you get tired of leaders who always talk and never listen? All great leaders are great listeners and ask great questions. It is how they show respect for followers and how they learn (chatter leaders may think they know it all, but they don’t).
Cha-Cha: the Cha-Cha was a popular dance in the 50’s; disco was popular in the 70’s; the Macarena in the 90’s. Cha-Cha leaders always know the latest and most popular dance and they are good dancers. If leadership was a continuous big party, Cha-Cha leaders would be great leaders—but it’s not.
Chrome: chrome is on cars to make them look good—shiny, flashy, etc. But it is what’s underneath that really matters. Chrome can cover up corrosion, cracks and chipped paint. To repair a wrecked car, you start by pulling the chrome off. To repair a wrecked organization, you start by pulling the chrome off the leader.
“Looking good” may be half of the score in bull riding, but in leadership it’s not worth much at all.
"The best way to lead people into the future is to connect with them deeply in the present."
Kouzes & Posner