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How To Tell A Leader From A Fraud

This guy was talking nonstop.

I was sitting there trying to read but he would just not shut up. It got so bad I had to take a photo as if in protest.

(Yes, that’s my photo and I’ve covered the faces in it so as not to imply anything about a random individual who just happened to be sitting near me in a coffee shop.)

The exchange between this man and his companions had something to do with a business deal.

  • “I know some people.” 
  • “Sure, we can make that happen.” 
  • “Let me put a few numbers together and get back to you.” 

Not knowing anything at all, I could tell that this pitch was one gigantic snow job. When someone is really good at what they do, and can deliver, they don’t have to say much of anything.

Last night I saw the movie The Accountant, with Ben Affleck. This movie is not to everybody’s taste, but I liked it a lot because of how Affleck portrays an autistic man–Christian Wolff–a genius–whose father taught him to function in real life.

More than function. Dad taught his son to be a leader: to defend himself, to take care of his family, to live by a moral code.

In the movie Wolff says very little. As the character is a genius Affleck is equally a genius at his craft, and through the use of this minimal dialogue he telegraphs an important message: leaders are skilled, leaders are trained, and leaders act.

Fakers talk.

I am reminded of my childhood years, growing up in New Jersey (that’s me on the right) when my mother used to take me to Shop-Rite to get my hair cut.

There was a small cheap ladies’ salon in the back of the strip mall where the grocery store was. To my mother’s thinking, the haircut wasn’t worth it unless the lady gave me a real chop.

I forgive my mother today, I really do. My point goes back to leadership, and talk. Focusing on the image rather than reality.

Cutting off 4 inches when a trim will do.

Fakes tend to spend a lot of time talking, or controlling talk, to create the image of success. They do this by:

  • Bombarding the company with one-way, top-down communications that don’t really say anything. Restricting what people say and write, overtly or covertly. 
  • Cultivating a culture of “yes-men,” and women–and marginalizing, silencing, and eventually eliminating from the organization anyone who might make them look bad. 
  • Resorting to pat answers, talking points, rehearsed scripts and even lying outright when questions arise about how well the organization has actually done under their leadership. 

To support the talk they do things like:

  • Starting new initiatives when the “old” ones were just fine, but had the name-stamp of their predecessor. 
  • Making everybody document, document, document “success” through irrelevant and extensive “metrics”–or worse yet, cutting corners so that the “metrics” make them look like they’ve achieved something real. 

To sum it up: A real leader steers the ship. They spend their time getting stuff done. A fraud focuses solely on “optics.”

If you really understand what branding is, you know that brand success is 97% great product, and 3% image and fluff.

Incompetent leaders reverse these proportions.


All opinions my own. Photo by Mike via Flickr (Creative Commons)


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