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Leadership Formulas

Do we really believe outstanding leadership is so simple that we can boil it down to a simple formula? Could any single formula explain the likes of Gandhi, Jack Welch, and Bill Gates? Of course not.

Individual human beings are amazingly complex. Interactions between individuals and groups are even more complex. Leadership represents one of the most complex forms of human interaction. In any given leader-follower relationship countless things are happening simultaneously: ego needs, security needs, needs for power, needs for approval, needs for affiliation, needs for achievement, etc., etc.

Nevertheless, many authors continue to offer simple formulas for leadership success. John Maxwell alone has written enough leadership books to fill your garage. Maxwell's ideal leader would, no doubt, be effective in the church where he is the pastor. But, could you imagine a Maxwell-like leader being taken seriously in the business world or in the military?

Jim Collins, after writing his extraordinary book "Good to Great," decided to simplify the leadership phenomenon to a few paradoxical combinations: humble and willful, or shy and fearless. He calls these paradoxical combinations Level Five Executive Leadership, "a necessary requirement for transforming an organization from good to great."

Collins uses Abraham Lincoln as an example of a Level Five Executive Leader. While we all admire Abe Lincoln, could you imagine Lincoln as CEO of Microsoft or

In my own articles and books, I offer a leadership model that is more complex than the "pop" models. It is more complex, but it also offers some practical guidance. My leadership model considers the characteristics of the leader, the characteristics of the followers, and the characteristics of the task.

In any leadership situation, of course, we want to look at the characteristics of the leader. My argument with the leadership characteristics described in the "pop" literature is against the tendency to be overly simplistic.

We must also consider the follower characteristics in a leader-follower relationship. An interesting body of literature about follower characteristics emerged several years ago. Unfortunately, this type of study has not been very popular because it does not appeal to the people who seek simplistic ideas about leadership success.

Finally, in my work, I have urged individuals and organizations to consider the characteristics of the task at hand. The highly effective tank commander in combat situations may not be the best choice to lead the new Sunday School at your church.

Leadership will continue to be a fascinating topic. Some of the best research on leadership is being conducted right here in Greensboro, North Carolina (where I live) at the Center for Creative leadership (CCL). The findings of CCL's research may not be found at the top of the New York Times bestseller list, but reading CCL's research is well worth the investment of your time.

About the author:

Dr. Mike Beitler is the author of "Strategic Organizational Change." Read 2 free chapters of the book right now at


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