An acquaintance of mine, a smart guy that I get to talk to annually when we speak at a conference here in Orlando, tweeted something that amused me:
Statistical analysis idea: # of people in LinkedIn titled Innovator, Gamechanger, Visionary, Leaders etc. vs self-confidence and insecurity.— David Haney (@haneycodes) December 13, 2016
If you've worked in technology circles and used LinkedIn, you've seen what he's talking about. Not surprisingly, the profiles found along side these self-stroking summaries don't really communicate how it is they fit the bill, and they infrequently have something to show for it. I don't like people who are braggy or describe themselves in superlatives. They have little in common with the people that I've looked up to as mentors and true leaders. Talk is cheap. (This has a lot to do with why I'm so annoyed with the president-elect, and worse, the people who think that "speaking your mind" is somehow a qualification for... anything.)
Humility is, in my opinion, one of the greatest qualities of leadership. There's a CEO I know that runs a theme park company, for example, and any time I can get even 15 minutes with the guy, I walk away feeling smarter and energized. I'm not exaggerating the effect he has on people. But if you were to try and compliment him or give him praise, he will consistently deflect it to others. He's not interested in credit. That's the kind of leadership that I look up to and aspire to.
Adaptability is another quality that I think is not given enough weight with leadership. One of those personality assessments that I took at some job described me as a "directing motivator," meaning that I generally have goals and direction in mind when I lead, but it's secondary to motivating my team to success. The thing that keeps me honest in that endeavor is the processing of new information, adapting the direction as it comes in. I'm surprised to read many accounts of Steve Jobs, notorious for having an asshole-ish style of leadership, indicate that if you could sell him on a different direction, he would be all-in for it. Not having all of the answers should be a given, and ties into the humility challenge.
Ultimately, you can self-assign whatever masturbatory adjectives you'd like, but our true ability to lead is better measured by our outcomes. I find that our outcomes are better served by humility and adaptability.