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How Do You Lead?

After the Yankees’ George Steinbrenner died, a piece ran in the New York Times with the subtitle: “His employees may not have liked it but George Steinbrenner had a point. Brashness and entitlement are essential to leadership.”

Jim Collins, I think, might disagree. In his popular book Good to Great, a study of how a handful of diverse companies beat industry performance, and in a more recent Harvard Business Review article on “Level 5 Leadership”, he stresses the importance of the leader’s “humility and fierce resolve”—including an almost colorless form of persistence and giving others the credit for success—as important levers in creating a successful enterprise.

So which is it? The bellowing, over-the-top grandstander who will battle to the death (and seems to enjoy it)? Or the modest consistency of the insider who shows quiet passion for the organization’s purpose, and who lifts others to the top?

Putting aside the marveling and caviling about the head Bombthrower of the Bronx Bombers, and despite all the data Collins and his team collected, isn’t leadership—in practice—a mix of character, experience, and the realities of the situation at hand? I have trouble accepting the old saw about getting the leader we deserve, as democratic as it may be. Yes, karma may be somewhere in the mix, but the mesh of right time, right place, right person seems to have more to do with synchronicity and the alignment of the spheres (luck of the draw, maybe?) than anything else.

I should probably disclose that I’m a Mets fan, not a Yankees fan. I’ve always preferred the brand image of upwardly mobile scrappiness to the bought-and-paid-for, nothing-but-the-best, most corporate team in baseball.

And yet, wasn’t Steinbrenner merely following a different Collins rule? Getting the right people on board—the top talent—is another Collins prescription for success.

Luckily, there’s more than one way to lead. If you don’t have Steinbrenner’s swag or swagger, you can still be the quiet, humble leader — helping others to shine, holding up the flag, quietly tenacious – and get the job done.

How do you lead? Who do you want on your team?

Onward and upward,


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