The Character of Leadership

Sometime in the 90s, a Stanford professor Jim Collins set out to conduct a study on how companies make the transition from being good to being great. What started out as mere study produced such profound results he later turned it into a book titled; Good to Great.


Sometime in the 90s, a Stanford professor Jim Collins set out to conduct a study on how companies make the transition from being good to being great. What started out as mere study produced such profound results he later turned it into a book titled: Good to Great.

Jim Collins’ team started out by studying 1,435 good companies. They examined the performance of over 40 years and found 11 companies that became great. All the eleven had two consistent elements. They all had leaders that demonstrated incredible professional will and genuine humility. The success of the great companies had very little to do with market conditions, it had everything to do with the quality of leadership behind the companies.

Development psychologists have argued, “incredible professional will” and “genuine humility” are two attributes that are rarely found in the same person.

Genuine Humility–What It Is, and Isn’t

In a world where the media spotlight seems to shine brightest on egotistical corporate leaders, sports figures, entertainers and other celebrities. Genuine humility could possibly hinder a person from succeeding while fake humility becomes entrenched as a leadership sub culture. Many leaders project a sense of being humble outwardly, but inwardly, they must maintain arrogance and toxic self-confidence.

Jim Collins writes, “the good-to-great leaders never wanted to become larger-than-life heroes. They never aspired to be put on a pedestal or become unreachable icons. They were seemingly ordinary people quietly producing extraordinary results”. Genuine humility manifests itself in leaders that are quick to deflect praise, redirecting it to their teams.

“Humility is not thinking less of yourself. It is thinking of yourself less.” – C.S. Lewis

Most important, genuine humility also allows leaders to come to terms with the reality of their context; it creates an environment for strategies to quickly morph to fit the circumstances allowing leaders to get ahead.

Strong Professional Will

Pawan Mishra once said, “the only thing God is afraid of is a strong-willed human.” Overtime strong-willed people have earned themselves a bad reputation. They are many times seen as stubborn, dominant, unreasonable or headstrong. However, it is important to note, being strong-willed isn’t the same as being a “bad person” and strong willed children aren’t necessarily “bad kids.”

In fact, a 40-year study published in Developmental Psychologyfound that strong-willed children are simply determined to do things according to their own terms; quite often, causing problems for the adults around them. The same study also found strong-willed kids who break the rules become some of the highest income earners as adults and are more likely to become leaders.

A strong-willed person is not easily influenced by others or by current trends in thinking. They are willing to endure ridicule or disapproval that may occur as a result of voicing their beliefs. They do not give up easily when the going gets tough.

Strong-willed people often have a firm sense of purpose. They dream big dreams and then figure out how to make them come true. Tell them they won’t achieve their dream and they will do it just to prove you wrong. Strong-willed people live passionately and succeed in what they set out to accomplish.

Strong-willed people also understand that change is a natural part of life. Since change is inevitable, they prefer to get out in front of it. They adapt to their situation in order to control how it affects and changes them.

As the growing body of knowledge on leadership increases, scientific studies have today provided us with more clarity on the role of humility and professional will as key elements required for leadership. Also, because conventional knowledge on the traits of leaders hasn’t been previously based on scientific findings, Jim Collins’s findings undoubtedly provide new insights into the complex elements of what great leaders are made of.

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