Leadership Ingredients

Leadership Ingredients by Dr. Robert Gerwig

Photo by Author

Lap swimming isn’t for everyone. To some, it’s monotonous. To others, who can’t swim, it’s dangerous. For others, it’s exercise. I personally find it therapeutic and relaxing. There’s something about the water, its temperature, its color, its feel. Whenever I’m swimming laps, I feel “at home.” Maybe it’s because I spent several years swimming competitively and it brings back many fond memories. Maybe it’s because I’m “weird.”

Yet despite my keen love of the water and lap swimming, I do have standards. I won’t swim in a brown or green pool. You know, one that has mosquitos and looks like a swamp or a bog. To enjoy the pool and the experience of swimming, the water needs to be “clean.” This means all the chemicals must be properly balanced. Having worked as a lifeguard and owning a pool, I know the importance of, and challenge of, maintaining chemical balance in a pool. If the chemicals are not balanced, the pool can turn brown, green, or smell like a chemical factory and burn your eyes. On the other hand, having the chemicals “in balance” results in clear water. Water that has a nice clear/blue color to it. Water that doesn’t burn your eyes. Water that is meant to be enjoyed, for swimming and playing.

Tonight, while swimming laps I was “thinking.” If you’re a lap swimmer, you know what I mean. For those that aren’t, imagine being on a treadmill but not watching TV or reading a book. To be a lap swimmer, you have to sing songs in your head, get in a zone, or think. Tonight, I was thinking.

I was thinking about some of the young, aggressive professionals I’ve met who want to run their organization within 6 months after being out of school. I was thinking about knowledgeable professionals who are almost timid and won’t push when necessary. Confidence and humility. Not necessarily opposites, but certainly different character traits. Yet both are necessary for sustainable, balanced, world-class leadership.

Think about it. Think about your favorite people. Your favorite leaders. Your favorite family members. I’m willing to bet they demonstrate both confidence and humility. They aren’t overly arrogant, but they’re not a wimpy door-mat either. They work hard, know when to be assertive, and believe in themselves while not getting caught up in their own press clippings. True? Think about it. Can you describe a world-class leader who doesn’t have both ingredients – confidence and humility? These ingredients may look a little different from person to person, but if you look hard you’ll see them. If not, there is imbalance that will result in a brown or green pool. Mosquitos.

Two people I met at a recent social outing demonstrate the result of imbalanced ingredients. One guy came from the “right” family. He went to the “right” schools. Socialized with the “right” people. He “had it all.” Intelligent. Well-connected. Rich (from his “luck” being born in the “right” family). Good looking. Yet something was missing from the outset. Imbalance. It took about 30 seconds to realize that this guy was not only confident, he was arrogant. He had an attitude. I tried to disengage and move away as quickly as possible. Mosquitos.

The next guy I met had many years of experience and was clearly intelligent. He was articulate in a low-key way. I liked him. Yet the more we talked, the more it became apparent that he lacked self-confidence, to the point of being comical. Imbalance. Mosquitos.

Unlike the story of Goldilocks, I didn’t meet anyone that evening that was “just right.” These two leadership ingredients are easy to name, easy to spot, and hard to balance. Yet, the reward is great for those who are up for the challenge. Are you?

Are you supremely confident? Overly confident, bordering on arrogant? Or do find yourself always deferring and keeping your talent bottled up? Maybe you were raised in a family environment that taught “pride is a sin” and, therefore, you demonstrate a humility that you are proud of, in secret of course!

It’s ok to have both. To be both confident and humble. These don’t have to be mutually exclusive leadership ingredients. In fact, when balanced appropriately and used in proper amounts, these two leadership ingredients complement each other resulting in a beautiful finished product, beautifully clear water free of mosquitos.

As always, the floor is open to your comments, suggestions, thoughts, and feedback.

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