Career ToolBox #52: The Price of Leadership


There’s a lot of talk these days about leadership. Sports. Politics. Military. Corporate. Hollywood. Thought Leadership. You name it.

Seems like there’s plenty of opinions on what effective leaders do, don’t do, where they succeed, where they fail, and when they have failed us, we make it well known. We air our grievances on social media, at the dinner table, at work and to anyone who will listen. Because criticizing, judging and tearing apart those we built up is a much easier sport than challenging ourselves. For every Star Wars fan who has ripped into Rian Johnson for directing The Last Jedi in his vision, I doubt many have ever attempted to to write or direct a full feature film of their own.

Since my early days of leading, as a first chair drummer in my high school (while only a sophomore, and a girl) to my days in college, grad school, corporate America, and in the past decade of teaching, coaching, writing and traveling the world, I’ve been tremendously fortunate to both meet and learn from fantastic leaders. They’ve showed up in my life in various forms: bosses, books, professors, student-selected presentations, artists, friends and documentaries.

I’ve now watched each of the four episodes of The Defiant Ones on HBO, directed by Allen Hughes, at least three times. Each time with a pen and notepad taking down quotes, lessons and inspirations that made me stop and think. It’s not just about hip hop, it’s about changing the world. And all the people featured in this story burn the same fire.

What’s quite fascinating is that regardless of the century, country, race or gender born into, the truly magnificent leaders — the titans who changed the landscape of their industry, often creating it or re-inventing it all together — share some very similar characteristics. Call them personality traits or behaviors, intentions or actions, but the leaders that make the greatest impact in their lives have much more in common than we can ever admit. I dare you to research Rockefeller and then Jennifer Lopez and not find these patterns. And if you’re underestimating J-Lo, then I suggest you start by reading up on her first. You don’t have to like her. She’ll continue to grow her empire without your approval.

I’ve recently been challenged by a client to help her grow her leadership skills and see what’s next. Part of my process with her is to deconstruct these leadership patterns and see how she fits within the model. It’s a fascinating study of potential. In all these patterns, there’s a few that are there 100% of the time. As in with every single influencer — pluck them into these behaviors and they will stick. This is the price they pay.

1. Visionaries — The famous hockey player Wayne Grezky once said “Skate to where the puck is going, not where it has been.” This right here is the prototype for leadership. From Vanderbilt and his railroads to Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine and their Beats, the men and women that we read about in WSJ and watch on HBO can see the landscape 10 years in advance and act on those impulses with immediacy and strategy. Then everyone else follows, while competition eats dust.

2. Laser Focus — Per Oprah, “With every experience, you alone are painting your own canvas, thought by thought, choice by choice.” The people who actualize their goals aren’t distracted. Not by the naysayers, not by social media or the press and certainly not by their competition. The opposition, the obstacles and the obnoxious behaviors of those who don’t wish them to succeed actually fuels these people. Our opinions mean very little. They know who they are and what they’re after. Everything else is just noise.

3. Overcome Great Obstacles — About a decade ago in an American Express ad campaign, when asked what his childhood ambition was Martin Scorsese wrote, “To get out of where I was.” Whether early in life, and the circumstances that they were born into, or later in life after they built something big only to, for whatever reason, lose everything, the great leaders showcase consistent resilience. They know full well that the more successful one becomes, the more one can lose. And in order to earn that success, they have to keep testing the market and themselves. That repetitive failure is just part of the success equation.

These are just three of a much longer list of attributes that my research has shown. But without these three, there is no good to great, no blue ocean, no outlier, no 4 hour work week.

There’s just the status quo.


Alexsandra (Alex) Sukhoy. I’m a writer, marketer and career coach at Creative Cadence LLC, and teach business students at CSU.  You can find my first business book, Date Your Career: The Longest Relationship of Your Life, on Amazon. I’m currently writing a film noir screenplay called Cleveland City.

Twitter: @creativecadence. #letstalk

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