It's harder than ever to attract and retain people, and that's one of the roles that great leaders can play. But what are the skills that every great leader possesses? Are they different now than they used to be? Can these skills be taught and learned? To help answer these questions, I reached out to Scott Miller, the executive vice president of thought leadership at the renowned training company FranklinCovey. Miller is also the author of the book Management Mess to Leadership Success: 30 Challenges to Become the Leader You Would Follow and is the host of “On Leadership With Scott Miller," a weekly leadership webcast, podcast and newsletter featuring interviews with renowned business titans and bestselling authors.
How do you define leadership?
Scott Miller: If you want to inspire people, they need to be attracted to you. That's why I think that leadership is the balance of confidence and vulnerability. Confidence is rooted in competence, but it's also a fine line between confidence and arrogance. The difference is that confident people are humble. Confidence can also be projected, which can do great wonders for the culture of a team. Vulnerability is not talked about enough. People want to relate to their leader. They don't want this huge chasm between them and the C-Suite sitting in an ivory tower. That's why great leaders talk about their fears and concerns and passions. They talk about their mistakes, which creates a culture without fear.
How does your definition differ from common wisdom?
Scott Miller: Leadership is about influence. The old-school approach was to do that through control and command and positional power. Leaders expected people to do things because they said so. That's changed. It still exists in some organizations, but the new generation will stomp that approach out. Now, people will only follow leaders who they trust. That are competent, relevant and relatable.
What's the role that leaders play in an organization?
Scott Miller: The main job of a leader is not what many people think it is. It's not to engage or set the mission and values. Those are all important. But the key role of leadership universally is to attract and retain talented people.
How does vulnerability and confidence play a role in helping a leader build a strong team?
Scott Miller: It takes a humble person to hire people who are smarter than you. As Liz Wiseman, the author of Multipliers, says: a leader's role is not to be the genius in the room. It's to be the genius maker of others. This is a lesson I've only learned recently. Over the course of my career, I've hired smart people—but they weren't smarter than me. I felt threatened. I wasn't mature or competent enough to realize my role was actually to be the magnet to attract the best people possible so we could build the most powerful team possible. And you can do that by finding that balance of demonstrating vulnerability and confidence.
Do those leadership attributes help retain people as well?
Scott Miller: If people don't think that their best talent is being pinged every hour by recruiters, they are missing out. A leader's job isn't just to find people, it's to retain them. What leaders need to do is create the kind of culture that people want to engage in. People don't quit jobs; they quit their bosses. If you are a confident and vulnerable leader, you can create the kind of resilient culture where people won't leave for an extra $5,000 or a ping-pong table. They will stay because they are inspired by leadership.
It sounds like you are saying that having the right leadership skills plays a huge role in how competitive a company can be.
Scott Miller: A company's competitive advantage is not based on its patents, or supply chain, or marketing prowess. The ultimate advantage any company has is the relationships between your leaders and your teams. If you invest in your leaders and they build a strong culture, you will supersede everyone else. That's your most valuable competitive advantage. On the flip side, the organizations that don't have strong leaders will be sunk.
The main job of a leader is not what many people think it is. It's not to engage or set the mission and values. Those are all important. But the key role of leadership universally is to attract and retain talented people.
—Scott Miller, executive vice president of thought leadership, FranklinCovey
What's the first step someone would need to take to become a leader?
Scott Miller: I think the first step is to become vulnerable. As I write in my book, you need to own your mess. The paradox is that if you think people don't know about your flaws and weaknesses, you're wrong. They do. Once you acknowledge that everyone knows your flaws, you get rid of fear. You create that connection between you and the team. You create a culture where it's safe for everyone to talk about their own flaws and fears.
Can anyone learn to become a leader?
Scott Miller: I have a somewhat counterintuitive view on this. I do believe that everyone has leadership qualities in them. But not everyone should be a leader of people. Leadership isn't for everyone. There is very little correlation between people who are great producers and leaders. We lure great producers into leadership roles and they struggle. Someone who is a great salesperson, for example, might not have the attributes that make them a great leader. Great salespeople are competitive and driven to win. But to lead, you need to be patient and empathic. You need to be a great listener and you need to be comfortable not having all the answers. And you need to solve problems through other people rather than jumping in to solve it yourself. People hate working for know-it-alls. As Dr. Covey wrote in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, influential leaders are more concerned with what is right than in being right. The essence of a great culture is based on synergy and how people get along with each other. If a leader can build a culture where people get along, that's the kind of advantage that all of your competitors are begging for.
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