Let me introduce you to three players in the investment and wealth management field.
Tom is at the top of his game, has an international reputation and his advice and forecasts have had impacts on the GDP of countries.
Dick graduated from a prestigious school and works for a prestigious firm, but is a mediocre fund manager, has no international reputation and is not thought of as a star in his organization.
Harry has an international reputation, millions of followers on his various social media platforms, and is always flying off to accept some kind of award or accolade. He’s so famous that his reputation drowns out the former clients who say his advice lacked depth, was cookie-cutter and didn’t reap expected returns.
You are at a cocktail party with a couple dozen other invitees and these three guys. Which of them do you expect to be entitled, arrogant and contentious? Which of them will be generous, curious and collaborative? Which will have followers and which will have fans?
You might expect those with the biggest reputation and responsibility would be unapproachable and ego-fixated, but Tom is generous, humble, curious and collaborative. He genuinely enjoys and is interested in the opinions and experiences of others and, as a result, people gravitate to him, go out of their way to help him and are devoted followers of his brand of worthy leadership. Not only does he enjoy positional power, he enjoys tremendous personal power, neither of which he has to use much because people want to follow his lead.
Dick always thinks he knows more than anyone else, without much evidence to support this self-assessment. Deep down he might suspect he isn’t quite that talented, but he masks that insecurity with arrogance and a highly critical interpersonal style. He picks fights with people rather than pursue discussion. He refuses to listen deeply or attentively to those with whom he disagrees and refuses to re-examine his own beliefs and opinions. Not surprisingly, he has few followers and is not seen as leadership material in his own firm.
We all need Toms in our lives and our organizations: talented, deep thinkers who cultivate the best in others without ever feeling that it diminishes them to do so. Solid, nutritionally dense, satisfying steak.
There is also a valid role for Harry: Someone has to sell the sizzle and generate excitement in advance of the meat hitting the grill. We just need to make sure he is putting steak on the grill and not subbing in hot dogs.
And finally, what to do with Dick? He is something of a gasbag, but what’s a barbecue without gas? It has to be properly connected and channeled — you can’t turn your back on it — and it does have the potential to blow up and cause damage. But, handled correctly and kept in the right container, gas can be useful.
Dick does have some merit by virtue of his education and current position and those positives could be teased out of his gaseous state with solid coaching. It’s a tough thing to see yourself clearly, let alone truly appreciate the impact you have on others, which is why coaching is a process of discovery and transformation.
We have to do more than admire the Toms of this world -- we have to look closely at why they are such authentic leaders and then examine ourselves for similar traits or potential. We also have to understand why people do or don’t follow us. Once we understand the type and extent of our power, we have a better sense of how to use it: at the right time, in the right way, to get the impact you intend.