Where Have All the Good Leaders Gone?

If you’ve worked for any length of time, you’ve probably wondered, “Why is it so hard to find good leaders?” You’re not alone. Not only are employers finding it tricky to find qualified help, management & executive roles have become increasingly difficult to fill. These employers can only expect retirement to continue to raid the Baby Boomer portion of their leadership ranks. So who will step up to fill the leadership gap? More specifically, where should we look?

Everyone wants to work for a strong leader and to have dependable people supporting them. But it’s not a given. So if you’ve ever asked where all the good leaders have gone, it may be helpful to tweak your perspective.

Business Man Alone

Adjust Your Expectations

How do you answer the question, “What makes a good leader?” Chances are you’ll respond with a leadership quality that means a good deal to you. The truth is, it takes many characteristics to produce a highly effective leader. Blanchard & Miller’s SERVE Model alone lists five of them (see & shape the future, engage & develop others, reinvent continuously, value results & relationships and embody the values) – and there are many models out there. Expectations for leaders should be high. But expecting each leader to master every leadership skill every time is an impossible standard. Not only do we all make mistakes, we have different sets of strengths and weaknesses. You’ve probably worked with a leader who excelled at project management but lacked empathy – or maybe the other way around. Anticipate imperfection.

Look for the Good

At one point, steel mogul Andrew Carnegie was the wealthiest man in America. In fact, he was so wealthy that he once had 43 millionaires in his employ – an unheard of amount for that time. When asked how he produced so many, he responded that men are developed the same way gold is mined. You have to move several tons of dirt to find one ounce of gold. “But one doesn’t go into the mine looking for the dirt – one goes in looking for the gold.”

Not everyone will become a millionaire leading organizations. But each leader – and each person – has a set of good qualities they bring to the table. To the extent that you can become a good-finder in others, you will be able to appreciate and build from their contribution. Do what Ralph Waldo Emerson did. He said, “In my walks,  every man I meet is my superior in some way, and in that I learn from him.”

Develop Your Own

When qualified leaders are hard to find, it’s not just corporate recruiting’s problem. It’s everyone’s problem, including yours. Sitting on your hands while the organization stagnates isn’t an option. Roll up your sleeves and start developing the people you already have. They won’t become the leaders you need them to be by accident. The options are endless: conduct a talent review, hold IDP discussions, build an onboarding process or find training options or stretch assignments. Be proactive.

Not everyone is qualified to lead an organization at the top, but you’ll find great leadership examples all over the place if you stop to notice them. People generally find what they are looking for. The trick is to develop the discipline to look for the good – and then develop it to become great.

Nathan Magnuson is an executive leadership consultant, speaker and author of the books Stand Out! and Ignite Your Leadership Expertise. Click to see the exciting ways Nathan is helping organizations and teams become more effective with Leadership-in-a-Box.

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