Radical Leadership: Part One of a Three-Part Series

October 10, 2015


There are far too many change management initiatives destined for failure in business today.  Why do I say this?  Because the one true ingredient to evolving (smarter than 'changing') a company for purposes of sustainability, profitability, or social impact – is leadership.  Not just any leadership….it must be radical leadership.


The Kotter or Lewin or McKinsey models around change will only get a company so far.  The goal post can only be reached under the steady and consistent hand of what I describe as a radical leader.  To be described as ‘radical’ is to suggest something drastic or extreme.  But sadly, the traits that I believe comprise those of a radical leader, are not extreme at all.  However, they do present an extreme departure from the majority of leaders steering the various ships today.  I’m somewhat encouraged that there are indeed notable exceptions to this, but remain concerned about what I believe is a true dearth of radical leadership.


What is radical leadership in my view?


If there was one headline to describe radical leadership it would be: ‘leading in ways that few others have the stomach to lead; while blazing new trails for next level leaders along the way.’


There are several key traits that I ascribe to radical leaders with whom I’ve had the privilege to work over my 23 years in business.  It’s not as if those individuals demonstrated every trait in every circumstance and did so flawlessly, it’s that they would relentlessly strive to do so.  Their understanding of the importance of these traits was superior.  They didn’t just get it….they fought to live it.  When they failed, they said so.  And, when they succeeded…well, you just knew it.


So, my learning – as with yours – is amassed from watching those who have failed as much as those who have succeeded.  That has informed what I now call, ‘Jo’s Radical Leadership Trait Theory’.  As compared with the numerous other leadership trait theories which opine on whether the particular traits are inherent v acquired or developed, my trait theory is apathetic on that issue.  What I focus on, rather, are the traits themselves.  Here are two of the six traits in part one of this series:


Emotional Intelligence

I fully agree with Jack Welch when he described the difference between IQ and EQ.  To paraphrase, he said that your IQ can get you in the door – it’s the threshold.  However, your EQ is the real differentiator.  It is far more powerful and of a higher value, fueling your trajectory.  The ability to understand and harness your emotions builds not only effective relationships, but clear-eyed and self-aware leadership.  It causes timely self-reflection and can allow you to be extremely adept in real-time situations, particularly those where the other person may be far lower on the EQ curve.


Risk-Taking with Affection for – Not Addiction to – Data


The trend around data analytics and its use as a discipline in driving business decisions cannot be exaggerated in its importance.  An ability to establish patterns towards some state of predictability can make the difference between hiring the right or wrong talent, or adopting the right or wrong business model.  In an online conversation, ‘Reinventing Society in the Wake of Big Data’, MIT Media Lab Professor, Sandy Pentland described the power of a data-driven society.  “I believe that the power of Big Data is that it’s information about people’s behavior –it’s about customers, employees, and prospects for your new business . . .This Big Data comes from location data from your cell phone and transaction data about the things you buy with your credit card. It’s the little data breadcrumbs that you leave behind you as you move around in the world. . . Big Data is increasingly about real behavior, and by analyzing this sort of data, scientists can tell an enormous amount about you. They can tell whether you are the sort of person who will pay back loans. They can tell you if you’re likely to get diabetes.”


That is truly mind-boggling.  However, in spite of this enormous promise, most of us know leaders who are paralyzed by data.  Literally, they cannot make a move without the data to back them up.  These leaders have effectively turned data into an addiction.   While leaders need a strategic framework in which to understand complex information, decisions are very often not ordered nor are they predictable.  They require an ability to operate in a grey area which pushes one to a place of extreme discomfort should the decision ultimately be the wrong one.  I’ve seen very few leaders with an ability to manage this tension.  Instead, they’ve either swung wildly between reckless decision making going by their ‘gut’ in spite of clear evidence to the contrary, or data-addiction where they are completely paralyzed should there be any absence of data.  


Leadership in that grey zone is the precious medium that must be reached….where one makes a decision with the best available data, imbued with both the ability and willingness to ferret out what’s important and what isn’t.  Importantly, they are, in the final analysis, wholly comfortable with all of the risks involved.


In part two of this series, I’ll describe two more radical leadership traits that I believe are vital to the success of businesses today – across all sectors. 

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