In our leadership class, we’re learning about the theories of leadership as it has grown as an academic discipline. It has shifted from a great man theory to looking at something more specific, identifying traits that make a great leader. These can be better because instead of just hoping a great man stumbles along, you can search for, and then reinforce traits that are desirable in a leader. This has issues, since trying to decide what trait is more desirable and which possible candidate has more of whatever you want may be hard to objectify. We discussed a case study about who a manager should hire, and all three possible candidates had traits that you could argue for in saying why candidate A was better than candidate C.
Thinking about this earlier made me think of this morning, when I was tired. I like to think that my normal persona at work is charismatic and knowledgeable and honest and all those positive traits that you look for in an employee (and a leader). But being the first day back from a long weekend, I just wanted to put my head down and work through what I needed to do – and I still didn’t finish because it was a bit more complex than I thought it would be.
Thus it lead me to a great weakness of looking solely at traits. They’re situational. Even if someone has all the traits you want, they need to display them when necessary. It made me think of this weekend. It was Jeter’s last games in Chicago, and the sports talkers were giving his career a fine tribute. He’s played for 20 years and have like five championships, and is known to be clutch in when it matters. Here’s the thing though. There is no such thing as clutch. The numbers nerds have broken down the stats, and when they look at people we call clutch what really happened is that they performed at their expected level based on their past results. There is choking, but what we see as clutch in terms of baseball is just consistency. I think that metaphor can easily be brought over to the study of leadership. It is not enough to just have positive traits, you have to show them at all times. Then you’ll be clutch in the office or the diamond.