Can Three Catalysts Make You a Better Leader?
According to Justin Menkes, consultant for the executive search firm Spencer Stuart and author of the best-seller Executive Intelligence, the best leaders are those who have the ability to realize their potential and the potential of those they lead — in other words, to perform to the best of their ability and to get the best out of their people. In his new book, Better Under Pressure, Menkes presents three specific "catalysts" for realizing potential: realistic optimism, subservience to purpose and finding order in chaos.
How to Be Optimistic Without Losing Your Head
Realistic optimism is self-confidence without self-delusion or irrationality, writes Menkes. People who have this trait are not afraid to attack audacious goals, but are also fully realistic about the challenges and difficulties that lay before them. To be realistically optimistic, Menkes explains, leaders must have both "an awareness of actual circumstance" — the ability to see the world as it is, both positive and negative — and a "sense of agency" — the deep belief in one’s capabilities to change circumstances or situations.
Menkes illustrates the ability to see the world as it is through the story of "Randy," an insurance company executive interviewed for the top position at one of America’s leading insurers (Menkes disguised his name for the sake of privacy). The interview took place soon after the collapse of AIG, which was in large part due to the company’s involvement with high-risk credit default swaps. Randy was intrigued by the credit default swaps, but remained cautious. It seemed to him that there were serious risk issues that his competitors did not seem to notice. As a result, according to Menkes, Randy set up "a separate subsidiary unconnected to the rest of the corporation that did a small trade in these products." In retrospect, the move might seem like genius, but for Randy it was simply of matter of "weighing risk and reward," Menkes writes. Randy was realistic about both the upside and downside of credit default swaps. And he also had the humility to admit that he wasn’t sure where this new market might go. His approach to credit default swaps reflected realistic optimism — he was willing to give the new product a try, but didn’t buy into the unsupported enthusiasm in which other companies indulged, to their eventual regret.
Subservience to purpose, the second of the three catalysts, means a total dedication to a goal. "Leaders who demonstrate subservience to purpose put a particular pursuit — such as their company’s mission — ahead of their own comfort," Menkes explains. "Quite simply, great leaders equate progress toward this goal with emotional satisfaction. They are, ultimately, servants to their company’s most noble purpose."
The third catalyst for leaders is to find order in chaos, Menkes writes. This is the unique ability to cut through multiple or multi-dimensional problems to find the solutions and resolutions that others cannot see. Maintaining clear thinking and having the drive to solve puzzles are the two key attributes in leaders who are able to find order in chaos.
Menkes conducted in-depth interviews with 60 of the best CEOs in America and draws on research of 200 other CEOs and leaders. The result is a clear explanation of three core personality attributes that separate the leaders who can face up to any challenge from the leaders who crumble or are weakened by adversity. Better Under Pressure is a valuable book for both experienced and emerging leaders.