Beware the Myth of the Super Leader

“We will all learn together. I want to learn from you as well as you learn from me.”

This, from a new CHRO who sits on the executive committee for a global organization. She is at the table with a ringside seat. Her humility is front and center, demonstrating that very important quality of a modest view of one’s importance.

As we sat in the meeting with her top staff where she uttered that statement, I was pleasantly surprised, and thankful for her approach, as we discussed upskilling her department. I thought to myself that this is the perfect approach to a new role, especially if the role is senior and you are the new leader. She had just given her team the owner’s manual of how she leads. This approach deflates the notion that you are the one with all the answers. In saying, “We are all going to learn from each other,” it equalizes the knowledge level of the team.

Myth of the ‘Super Leader’

One of the biggest mistakes leaders make is thinking they are supposed to have all the answers. This mindset has crippled so many people throughout their leadership journey.

There is that perpetual myth of the “Super Leader” who can make one decision after another without blinking an eye. The real ”Answer Man or Woman.”

That myth became carved in stone over the years, and while it was prevalent during the command and control area, now it is dying a slow death. The stereotype of the Super Leader in traditional business culture glamorizes the tough, decisive, unwavering leader who almost instinctively knows the right thing to do in any given situation. Decision made. Charge ahead. After all, we were taught that you could not rise to the top by indecision. Thus, bad decisions were made all around only to be regretted later. The biggest ones would be altogether different if we could just revisit them. Or as the saying goes, “If I knew then what I know now.”

I, for one, would gladly serve as a pallbearer at the funeral to bury this mindset once and for all.

Having all the answers is NOT the answer

In fact, the best executive leadership qualities mean a leader practices careful deliberation and accepts feedback from others. Why, then, do executives so often feel they must have all the answers? There was a scene in the Godfather where a potential partner was looking for loan assistance. As the Godfather listened to the proposal, he went around the room to get the thoughts of all his people on the proposal before making his decision. The old man in all his wisdom sought the advice of his team.

Asking for help shows real power

Many leaders are afraid to ask for help. They think it makes them a weak or unqualified executive. They fear losing control of the situation or worse, being seen as not knowing. Some simply prefer doing things their own way and just refuse to ask for help. But here is an epiphany: not having all the answers doesn’t equate to spinelessness. Great leaders today don’t do it alone. There is power and empowerment in seeking consensus of everyone in the room.

As the CHRO of this story showed, there is power in asking for help from your team. You can also apply this belief to a company, organization, or any project you’re running. People with the best executive leadership qualities understand success can’t be done alone. In fact, asking for help reveals strength, not weakness.

It can be refreshing for a team to hear from a leader, “Let me have your thoughts as I am struggling with this.”

Asking for help can also strengthen and develop your team. Being open to hearing their opinions will give them opportunities to share their ideas for solutions. Sure, initially some may shy away from speaking up. But you have just delivered a key component of your personal “leaders manual.” As time goes by and the routine is consistent, they’ll begin to understand that they are valued part of the decision making process.

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Trust will always be the anchor

Ideal executive leadership qualities revolve around having your team’s trust. That is the anchor of any team, department or project. The trust factor is the anchor. Do they feel that you are there to support them, or do they think you’re in it only to promote yourself? When you ask them for help or support, it shows that you trust them, their ideas, and their expertise.

In the end you’ll build a stronger team of people who understand their role and their value in your company. At the very least, it can be an opportunity to allow team members to voice their concerns and help you avoid a bad decision..

Show real leadership by asking for help. You will be surprised by the amount of help you get.

Ron Thomas

Ron Thomas is Managing Director, Strategy Focused Group DWC LLC, based in Dubai. He is also a senior faculty member and representative of the Human Capital Institute covering the MENA/Asia Pacific region.

He was formerly CEO of Great Place to Work-Gulf and former CHRO based in Riyadh. He holds certifications from the Human Capital Institute as Global Human Capital Strategist, Master Human Capital Strategist, and Strategic Workforce Planner.

He's been cited by CIPD as one of the top 5 HR Thinkers in the Middle East. He received the Outstanding Leadership Award for Global HR Excellence at the World Human Resources Development Congress in Mumbai, and was named as one of the 50 Most Talented Global HR Leaders in Asia

Ron's prior roles included senior HR positions with Xerox HR services, IBM, and Martha Stewart Living.

Board memberships include the Harvard Business Review Advisory Council, McKinsey Quarterly's Executive Online Panel, and HCI's Expert Advisory Council on Talent Management Strategy.

His work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Inc. Magazine, Workforce Management and numerous international HR magazines covering Africa, India and the Middle East.