As I Was Saying…

Last week I blogged about how I think Barack Obama has great leadership qualities. I mentioned the six qualities in the Proteus leadership model and I promised to explain them. So here’s an excerpt from an article I wrote about our “Chieftains” Leadership model:

“Folk and fairy tales are a wonderful place to look for a definition of the chieftain role. The stories exist in almost every culture and are remarkably similar in certain aspects, particularly in their outlining of what is required for someone to become (and remain) the ruler, the king or queen.

Let’s look at a tale that, with minor variations, can be found all over the world. Three brothers are charged with a difficult task. One, generally the youngest, succeeds. The personal qualities that enable him to achieve “happily-ever-afterness” are consistent.

First, the chieftain-to-be can see beyond his current situation (young, poor, despised, etc.) to his ultimate goal (save his father, win the princess, kill the monster), even when others lose sight of it, believe it’s impossible, or ridicule him for trying. He is Far-sighted.

Moreover, our hero doesn’t just go through the motions. He is deeply committed to his quest. He tells everyone he meets about his quest and tries to enlist their aid; his every action is directed toward achieving it. Nothing dissuades him, even the inevitable setbacks and disappointments attendant on any quest. He is Passionate.

Throughout the story, he is confronted with frightening and difficult situations. He may be afraid and lonely; he may feel like running away, longing for the comfort and safety of home. But he doesn’t turn aside; he doesn’t (unlike his brothers) make the safe and easy choices. He doesn’t wimp out. He is Courageous.

He’s not a cardboard action hero, though. His brain is tested, and he must be able to learn from mistakes. In many versions of the story, he doesn’t initially follow the advice given him by his shaman (don’t look back, don’t let go, don’t touch this or that on your way out), and his mistake creates more complexity and danger. The second time a similar situation arises, he behaves differently and succeeds at his task. He doesn’t deny or whine or blame; he improves. He also often comes up with clever solutions to seemingly insoluble problems, solutions that no one else has envisioned and that harm only the villain. Finally, he uses his powers of discrimination to think through difficult choices and arrive at the best solution (e.g., long-term happiness vs. current riches; the greater good vs. self-interest). He is thoughtful, appropriately humble, clear-headed and moral. He is Wise.

Along the way, the future chieftain meets people or creatures in need, and he helps or shares with them. He does so even though his own supplies are low; even though helping them takes him out of his way or slows him down. In some versions of the story, he actually has to sacrifice his life for those he loves or to whom he owes his loyalty (this always turns out all right in the end). And later on, when he is king, his people are prosperous and happy because he rules with an open hand — the chieftain is not stingy, miserly or selfish. He is Generous.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, his word is his bond. When he tells his dying father that he will find the magic potion to cure him, you know that he will. When he tells the princess that he will come back to marry her, you know she send out the invitations. When some creature says to him, “If I help you, boy, you must free me,” you know the creature is as good as free. The hero does not equivocate or exaggerate. He is Trustworthy.

This tale survives and thrives in almost infinite permutations because it is satisfying; it feels right to us. We are hardwired to expect our chieftains to be far-sighted, passionate, courageous, wise, generous and trustworthy. If we don’t see these qualities clearly demonstrated, we won’t follow whole-heartedly; it feels dangerous to do so.

Of course, we’re not entirely doctrinaire about this; we know that no real, living leader is perfect. If we are asked to follow someone who has four or five of these qualities, we will do it, all the while watching to see if he or she is working to add the missing qualities.”

If you find this interesting, let me know, and I’ll send you the whole article…

Posted in Leading People

About Erika Andersen

Over the past 30 years, Erika has developed a reputation for creating approaches to learning and business-building that are custom tailored to her clients’ challenges, goals, and culture.

Visit Erika's Forbes.com Blog

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