Menu Close

The complexity of being a great leader


On his HBR.org blog, Tony Schwartz explores leadership greatness, and discovers it's more complicated than it might seem.

He observes: "Many companies now build leadership programmes around developing 'competencies', a list of core qualities they expect all their leaders to embody. It's one size fits all, and the aim is to help people get up to speed wherever they fall short."

But this vastly oversimplifies the challenge of greatness in a climate of "relentlessly increasing complexity". And Schwartz adds that "trying to build one's unique strengths turns out to be just as limited as single-mindedly seeking to overcome liabilities".

The author says he has a "wise mentor" who can alternate between being extremely tough one moment to very gentle the next.

"Neither would be sufficient by itself," he says. "It's his ability to move between these opposite qualities, depending on the circumstances, that serves me so well."

Schwartz concludes: "The less compelled we feel to defend who we are, the more energy we have to invest in becoming the best version of ourselves.

"Greatness demands both decisiveness and flexibility, courage and prudence, strength and vulnerability, action and introspection. The true measure of greatness is our capacity to navigate between our opposites with agility and grace – to accept ourselves exactly as we are, but never to stop trying to get better."

Redefining Greatness (It's Complicated)
Tony Schwartz