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, written by Jeremy. Read the commentary.


My friend married a woman I don’t like very much. She’s dominant and out-spoken but careless in her opinions. She says silly things and doesn’t back any of them. She annoys and likes it.

One day this friend and I were working on some renovations at his place. We worked, she bossed. When she finally got tired of prattling, she took off to get her favorite food, her favorite coffee, and her favorite desert. We were doing the work but it still had to be about her.

My friend seemed as frustrated as me (not that it justified my pettiness). After she left he shook his head, obviously angry.

I fretted for several minutes before blurting, “Are you glad you married her?” I was being a complete jerk, knew it, and couldn’t stop myself. It was none of my business.

He was painting but didn’t skip a stroke. Without looking up he said, “Absolutely”.

I was incredulous. She’d been a bear all day. An absolute nuisance. And she was always like this.

“Why?” I complained, a bitter whine in my voice.

He laughed, got up easily and with a quiet smile said, “She’s everything I need.”

He put his brush down and went on. “When we fell in love, I saw everything bright in her. But, after we got married I realized how frustrating she can be. It took a long time to realize that for her to be so strong in some things, there has to be shadows somewhere else. For every brilliance, there is also darkness.”

I like strong egos (inconsistent with the story above, I know). I like the blunt, antagonistic, and aggressive leaders we work with.

I’m no fan of thugs, pimps, or anyone cruel. But I enjoy stubborn and idiosyncratic leaders that fight viciously for their own way. Even though pimps and stubborn leaders often share the same label – only pimps are truly bullies.

I worked for one true bully in my career. A passive-aggressive, conniving, spineless man. A man too weak to defend his own position, but powerful enough to hide it well.

We won’t take this kind of person as a client. But we do like leaders utterly convinced of their opinion, unwavering in their conviction, and unfettered in pursuit of their decisions. These leaders are often called bullies, but they’re nothing like the snake described above.

A high-ego, convinced, and moving leader is both boon and bane. A boon to those ready for change. A bane to anyone with threatened interests to preserve.

A driving leader takes something. They take a market, take a decision, take a position. For every thing taken there is, of course, some one else that is losing. Maybe power is lost. Future plans are shaken. Footholds of strength are eroded. Whatever the lose, the loser is usually unequivocal – they’ve been had by a bully.

I like this kind of ‘bully’.

Last week I wrote that corporate boards need coaches. They need help coaching CEOs. The biggest challenge for the boards of brilliant CEOs is that these people have the deepest shadows. And, even more difficult, the best CEOs completely ignore those shadows and plunge ahead regardless.

To be brilliant, ignore your shadows. I am absolutely convinced of this. But, it’s in direct opposition to how we are taught to live with others and with what others plead with us to be.

Everything in our education, in our careers, and in the social environment is geared to highlight gaps. We are graded on what we miss. Our performance is scored on what we failed to achieve. Friends pick at every outlier.

My success in business is a direct consequence of being curious, well-spoken, analytical and able to translate information to its use. Yet, not one person ever told tell me to focus on these things. Instead, teachers criticized me for missing details (fortunately, our clients want the big picture). Managers demanded more tact (clients like it blunt). Loads of “friends” called me quirky, suggesting it might be bad, but every client says they value an unconventional perspective.

If I focused on the many things there are to dislike about me, I’d never be good at the few things I do well. In the same way, any bright CEO must learn to ignore pesky “issues” that detract from important outcomes.

A good board recognizes this tension. They are big enough to stand behind their CEO. They defend the brilliance, rather than attack the weakness.

It’s easy to find and focus on gaps. Most boards get caught up in shadows. A good board finds the mountain.

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