Weekly Blog #16 - Leadership in 1937 and today (Part II)

Updated: May 6

This is the second part of the 2-part series on good leadership as described by Napoleon Hill in his book "Think and Grow Rich", published in 1937.


In the first part I reflected on leadership attributes such as courage, self-control, decision making and planning and the habit of doing more than paid for. You can find my previous blog post here.

In this part we will focus on leadership skills such as personality, sympathy and understanding, mastery of detail, responsibility and cooperation. These are the last five attributes a good leader should bring to the table according to Napoleon Hill and here's how I think they translate into the 21st century:

7. A PLEASING PERSONALITY - No slovenly, careless person can become a successful leader. Leadership calls for respect. Followers will not respect a leader who does not grade high on all of the factors of a Pleasing Personality.

Donald Trump... Boris Johnson... Bernie Sanders... Angela Merkel...

This is probably one of the more outdated attributes in this list. I believe that we are living in a time where the outer appearance and what was once defined as "pleasing" becomes less and less important. Judging a person by his or her appearance, gender, skin color, clothes or similar attributes is a thing of the past. We still tend to do this and the first impression counts as much as it probably always has. But I believe most people in a sophisticated and professional work environment are nowadays a bit more used to the fact that the first impression based on the outer shell of a person is probably not what they can expect and does not reflect the qualities, skill-set and capabilities this person brings to the table.

But if we look at inner attributes such as being a good and active listener, being well articulated, having good manners, etc., from my perspective there is still a common understanding that these things will help to accept someone as a leader.

8. SYMPATHY AND UNDERSTANDING - The successful leader must be in sympathy with his followers. Moreover, he must understand them and their problems.

Besides showing sympathy and understanding we nowadays here and read more and more about another important attribute: empathy. Emotional intelligence was and still is one of the core attributes of a good leader. In my opinion it is even more important today not only to react when there are problems but to develop the capabilities to anticipate issues even if they are hidden and not communicated clearly.


Even though this attribute does sound more esoteric than technical there are certain technical aspects I want to dive into a little bit deeper. Key to this is the ability to understand how everyone in a certain setup of leaders and followers, these can be project teams or parts of an organization or even organizations as a whole, is wired.


More often than not leaders are drawn towards giving plain instructions and expecting plain output because they are driven by productivity, efficiency and other external factors. I have experienced this in manufacturing environments as well as highly administrative work environments. Depending on the preconditions this way of collaboration can work well or it can lead to repeated misunderstandings and failure. To minimize "communication issues" that occur as a consequence of the fact that each and everyone is wired differently I found it very helpful to make sure that at the beginning of a project or a work collaboration certain assessments are being made to understand how every member of the organization thinks and works, if there are any conditions that need to be taken into consideration, etc..


There are simple and easy to use assessments and tools that will do the treat. I found those ones to be most helpful that require some sort of self-assessment and reflection on strengths and weaknesses, personal requirements to work most effectively and use type indicators like the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) test. This might sound very technical but once an initial setup like this has been done this can make it a lot easier to mutually understand and tackle individual problems within a group of people.


9. MASTERY OF DETAIL - Successful leadership calls for mastery of details of the leader’s position.

I found this attribute to be a little bit confusing when I first read about it. I have been taught that an important skill as a leader is to be able to delegate and to stop micro-managing every little task. But after thinking about it a bit more this doesn't seem to be what the author is referring to. My interpretation of this attribute is that it's important for a good leader to understand the details of his specific position, meaning: What is required? What am I bringing to the table? What am I doing well? Where do I need to improve?


As an example this could mean that it is not necessarily required to have deep knowledge regarding all tasks within one complex project or process structure, but it is important to align individual outputs with the overall goal of a project or process. To accomplish that a leader must for instance be good at planning, have his eyes and ears open to anticipate the overall direction, identify hidden agendas or deviations in goal-setting, etc..


10. WILLINGNESS TO ASSUME FULL RESPONSIBILITY - The successful leader must be willing to assume responsibility for the mistakes and the shortcomings of his followers. If he tries to shift this responsibility, he will not remain the leader. If one of his followers makes a mistake, and shows himself incompetent, the leader must consider that it is he who failed.

Again, this is an attribute that doesn't leave much room for interpretation. Standing up for his own and his team's failures is - in my humble opinion - a no-brainer. This attribute comes with virtues such as integrity, reliability, believability, etc.. Besides that, assuming responsibility is the best way to learn not only how to avoid failure in the future but also to understand how clients and customers react to failure. Exposing myself to one or two shit-storms in the beginning of my career hasn't hurt on the long run. It's as simple as that: the one that assumes responsibility is perceived as the leader. The one avoiding responsibility can never be the leader.


11. COOPERATION - The successful leader must understand, and apply the principle of cooperative effort and be able to induce his followers to do the same. Leadership calls for POWER, and power calls for COOPERATION.

The final attribute mentioned by the author is cooperation. He claims that a leader's inability to cooperate is one of the main reasons leaders have to leave their position. It's also common knowledge that a team of good people always performs better than one person on it's own. This requires radical transparency and honesty within the team. Knowing one's strength and weaknesses and knowing strengths and weaknesses within the team is crucial for good cooperation and success.


An interesting aspect of being a good be a good collaborator is the requirement to overcome your Ego-Barrier and your Blind-Spot Barrier. I have read about this in the book "Principles" written by Ray Dalio. With "Ego-Barrier" Dalio refers to the negative quality that most of us want to be right most of the time. He advises the reader to be open-minded, to understand that he is probably more often wrong than he is right, therefor to ask questions and to get rid of the confirmation-bias that can lead to conversations going around in circles without leading anywhere. The Blindspot-Barrier refers to all the things we don't know, even if we think we do. A main reason to build strong teams and cooperate is to overcome blind-spots and to make better decisions as a leader.


But attribute #11 does not only refer to cooperation between a leader and his followers. It is also important to cooperate with the higher-level hierarchies. Finding a good modus operandi, including the best and most efficient ways of reporting progress, aligning on goals and targets, etc. is as important today as it probably was back then and it's most likely way easier with today's means of communication than it was in 1937.


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If you are interested in the book "Principles" by Ray Dalio, please follow this link (Amazon Affiliate Link https://amzn.to/2VYPTA6)


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