Want to build a great leader? Start with a bad person–then treat him like coal and start the process to create a diamond.
The best human beings are collaborative, compassionate, empathetic and free of most defects of character. But the best leaders usually are not. Why do we hail the Steve Jobs and the Bill and Hillary Clinton’s of modernity and the Caesars of antiquity? Their management styles and personalities are often the opposite of what the gurus preach.
The key question is this: If your organization is looking for a strong leader who can really get things done, can you afford to take a chance on the idealized notion that the gurus preach? Or you do you have to admit that you may need someone who has rough and unpleasant edges? Also, these leaders’ legacies are always more complicated than we pretend. There are disappointments and hurt feelings and near-disasters along the way. Indeed, big-time leaders usually need a certain amount of luck to retire with their reputations intact.
But ultimately to build a good leader, you perhaps have to build on a foundation of “bad” qualities—that classic nasty competitive streak, excessive risk-taking, dangerous stubbornness and so on. And then you try to add in the restraint, the wisdom, the compassion and the other qualities that keep leaders from racing off a cliff in their zeal.
That notion of leadership is quite different from what most management gurus are trying to sell you. But at least it’s based on reality, as revealed from ancient times to our own.