The Barracuda Leader: Hungry. Always Hungry.
T he barracuda is an ambush fish, capable of speeds of 25 mph and feared by all but killer whales and sharks. If confronted by one of those enemies and there is no place to hide, the barracuda simply attacks. Whether hunting or escaping, the barracuda is a formidable predator.
I find myself contemplating the barracuda's traits when I consider much of the current discussion on leadership. Conversations that place great emphasis on the leader's capacity to be values-driven, express humility, not take credit, and generally be—and be seen as—a really nice person. The irony of this in a time of brutal politics is that political correctness is valued above and beyond almost any other leader-like behavior. I value those traits as well—it's a PC-centered world. Very little is heard of the importance of a leader's determination, single mindedness, focus, ability to drive, super smarts, or savvy. No one denies the primacy of these, the business end of a leader's work, but no one is talking about them.
So I raise the question: Don't we need both in our leaders? My answer is yes . Course after endless course and book upon book promote, teach, and otherwise support the "nice side" of leadership, but there is little that helps us understand and cultivate the "non-nice side." Notice I did not use the term "not-nice side." Nobody wants a mean and growly leader—harsh, demanding, and vindictive. There is only one way to deal with such a boss—show him the door! Or teach him a new way.
In my next few articles I want to discuss that "new way" through the lens of visuality: How to cultivate the business end, the non-nice side of leadership, for leaders who are either unduly intense or unduly relaxed. In my view, unduly intense or relaxed are the same problem; they're opposite ends of the same pole. The remedy? Learn and use the principles and practices of visual leadership.
The connection between skilled leadership and visuality may not be readily apparent, but it is nonetheless there—and it is powerful. Said in the fewest possible words: That connection is the same as the one between clarity and structure.
Let's begin to build this case by describing the high-value/high-competency profile of the non-nice leader—the barracuda.
The barracuda leader is a man or woman who is always hungry and always looking for lunch. The hunger is for excellence, and lunch is the next improvement breakthrough, the next jump, preferably a quantum one. You know these people. They are genuinely nice human beings; in fact, that is one of the requirements of barracuda leadership. Friendly, diplomatic, smooth, balanced, easygoing, even sunny. But on the inside, they are a riot of demand—for results, for change, for progress. Barracudas. Unrelenting, savvy, hungry.
Hungry. Always Hungry. That's the barracuda leader. More often than not, today's barracuda leaders did not start their careers that way. They were not born to that cloth. They had to learn to lead. And in learning to become leaders, they dispelled the myth of the "natural born leader."
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