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🚀 The Danger of Showboat Leaders (Issue #485)

🚀 The Danger of Showboat Leaders (Issue #485)

They don't build a culture that lasts

Have you ever worked for a showboat?

That’s the kind of leader who wants all the attention. They lead from the top down and expect everyone to get in line behind their vision of the future. They’re not usually open to hearing new ideas from the organization below them.

Showboat leaders are incredibly charismatic figures. So, it’s not surprising that they rise to the top.

  • They have a grand vision.

  • They speak well.

  • They are great on stage.

But it’s all about them.

They tend to use the company as a stepping stone to a higher platform. Over the decades of my experience in the corporate world, I’ve watched more than a few showboat leaders move up and on into politics.

Even becoming a CEO does not satisfy their ambition. They want a larger stage, more power, and more people hanging on their every word.

As long as your showboat leader has the right vision and strategy, your organization can succeed—if you and your team execute well. We can all think of a few companies with visionary genius CEOs who are more than happy to take all the credit for the company’s success. However, we also know it wouldn’t have been possible without the thousands of employees making that vision a reality.

There is an enormous risk with this type of leader. They leave a hollow organization behind when they walk away. They build nothing that lasts without their presence because they’ve never allowed their team to flex their own “vision muscles.”

Of course, there is a time and a place for visionary leadership. Startups and small companies need a strong leader at the top to chart the course and focus everything around a singular vision.

But, as companies mature and grow, they need a different type of leadership. You want a robust, diverse organization full of leaders who enable their teams to grow, thrive, and reach their full potential. You need managers who lift the entire team, not just themselves.

Why would you ever want to encourage a fragile organizational system that collapses when the showboat leader vanishes?

I once received feedback that I think was intended to be criticism. The person essentially said:

“You focus too much on getting the best out of your people. You seem really good at identifying and nurturing talent, but I want more vision from you.”

Oh boy, that sounds terrible. How dare I focus on the incredible intelligence and talent within my team so that over 100 people were operating at 100% of their potential? Yes, I should have focused on myself and tried to become the next Steve Jobs. 🙄

I’ve heard variations of this type of comment before.

  • “We need a Steve Jobs type.”

  • “We need a visionary leader.”

  • “Focus on the strategy. Let the team take care of itself.”

For the record, I do enjoy vision work. I did it for my startup, and I do it for my companies now. But I have to be passionate about the company and the product. If I’m not (which is often the case when you work for some employer), I’m happy to step aside and let my creative, innovative people come up with spectacular visions of the future for the product and company.

Why not nurture that?

Why not support people who have that passion?

My point of view on leadership and vision has changed a bit over the years. Being a grand visionary and a great people leader and manager is impossible. Each of these roles is a full-time job.

  • Creating, selling, and nurturing a big vision and strategic plan is a full-time job.

  • It is a full-time job to lead your team, knock down barriers, shield them, enable them, coach them, and nurture their careers.

People who say they can successfully do it all are full of crap. I know some of these people. Most of them altogether drop the ball on taking care of their teams. They are too busy being visionary, speaking, standing in the spotlight, and driving their own ambitious careers.

One of my friends told me they had only one 1-on-1 meeting with their manager each year. One damn meeting in 365 days! Their boss didn’t give a crap about my friend’s career.

If you’re in a position to decide what kind of leaders you want to promote and hire, think hard about the culture you want to build. Think hard about the type of leader you want to be, too.

The best leaders have:

  • Self-awareness and a desire to learn and grow (professionally and personally)

  • Control over their emotions and an ability to mediate the conflict of others

  • Compassion and a constructive drive to help others grow and succeed

  • A desire to create healthy cultures and treat all with respect

  • Dependability, reliability, and open and honest communication

  • The courage to champion others and the conviction to champion a mission 

  • The ability to see the big picture, prioritize goals, and enable success for all

  • The skill to keep “the plates spinning” to deliver on time (without burnout)

Here’s my unpopular opinion:

2x2 matrix

My recommendation to avoid the risk of showboat leaders?

  • Guide your most visionary, innovative, and creative people up the IC ladder to greatness. Don’t harness them to a “management plow.”

  • Guide your most compassionate, operational, and reliable champions up the management ladder to greatness. Don’t punish them for lack of vision.

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Hi, I’m Larry Cornett, a Personal Coach who can work with you to optimize your career, life, or business. My mission is to help you take complete control of your work and life so you can become a more “Invincible You.” I live in Northern California near Lake Tahoe with my wife and our Great Dane.

Invincible Career®
Invincible Career - Claim your power and regain your freedom
Claim your power, regain your freedom, and become invincible in your work and life! I share professional advice, challenges, and tips to help you create your Invincible Career®.