For as I long as I can recall, the “pick 2” joke has been referenced as a shining of example of what you can’t have. I spent the first half of my career working for ad agencies and nearly every client I have ever had believed they could get something good, fast, AND cheap. But, alas, we all know, you must pick 2.
There’s a leader version of this that probably isn’t as well known. Smart, nice, and invested, pick 2. The internet is filled with stories and lists about bad bosses. I’m not going to cover the ground that’s well worn. But, for a second, think about the best and worst leaders you’ve worked for. How many of them have been:
- Smart: They’re knowledgeable, not just in their craft, but they’ve seen enough to know enough about how to help you navigate the myriad of landmines and situations you’re going to encounter. Their subject matter expertise gives them credibility and how they approach even the most challenging situations, makes you believe they must be able to see the future. Smart leaders don’t create work to show activity, they focus on the work that drives accomplishment. It’s a subtle nuance, but invaluable.
- Nice: This characteristic seems to be high in demand, but hard to find. I mentor and coach ~10 early career men and women each year. At the top of their list for counsel is often something to the effect of, my boss is just mean, how do I deal with that? I don’t think there’s an expectation that our managers are our best friends. But, I also don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect your leaders to be nice. Here’s the thing about “nice”, the opposite isn’t mean. The opposite can be everything from vindictive to abusive and condescending to accusatory. There’s a range. I tend to think nice is far more about the “how” someone goes about things. To find someone that’s genuinely nice, today, well, that is a rarity.
- Effective: I was placed into an accelerated leadership program for future Sr. leaders of Walgreens. I learned a lot. On day 1, the facilitator asked the room to think about the traits of good leaders. Then we were asked to share them. The facilitator wrote them down on a whiteboard. At the tail end of the session, the facilitator read the list and then asked, what’s missing? We were left scratching our heads. After all, words like smart, nice, kind, compassionate, honest, efficient, etc. were on the board. The facilitator then said, what about “effective” – if a leader is all the things on the board, but they aren’t effective, are they actually a good leader?
Over 20 years, I’ve seen just about every type of leader. I’ve worked for leaders that were very nice, but not very smart or effective. Think, Jimmy Carter. I’ve worked for leaders that were smart and effective, but not particularly nice. Think General Patton. Of course, there were those that were smart and nice, but not particularly effective. This was someone like Ron Johnson.
Leaders come in all flavors. I’ve tried to be one that’s smart, nice, and effective. Without using those words, they’re characteristics I try to impart on my leaders.
I’ve also been fortunate to work for a handful of leaders that are smart, nice, and effective. Those are the leaders I still call in for advice. They’re the ones who offer me helpful constructive feedback. They’re the ones I’d work for again.
Smart, nice and effective – pick 2.