Why do certain CEOs relish taking on leadership challenges that have literally ended the careers of their predecessors?

Dana WilsonLeadership is one of those mysterious intangibles pundits have yet to get their hands around. Considering the number of books and articles written about the subject, it’s doubtful that it will ever be satisfactorily explained.

Nevertheless, new insights keep coming.

Why do certain CEOs relish taking on challenges that have literally ended the careers of their predecessors? How do they accept a set of circumstances that have already defeated others and turn them into a triumph? To thrive in conditions like these, true leaders possess what are identified as the following three intangibles of leadership:

Will. In all spheres of life, leaders have a constant need to rally people around them in pursuit of a common goal. Some people are perpetually able to get big things done. They are able to move mountains and drive change. The ability to lead people toward new heights requires will.

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Will is created through hard work and self-discipline. Extraordinary leaders do far more up-front preparation than most people realize. They don’t sit around waiting for luck to favour them. As the scope of their influence increases, self-discipline is required in order to be focused. To avoid distractions, find a process that focuses attention on what’s immediately important.

Fortitude. One study on the development of world-class pianists, neurologists, swimmers, chess players, mathematicians, and sculptors found that just a handful had been identified as prodigies. The most accomplished subjects had worked day after day for a number of years to achieve success. Similarly, many executives have endured difficult life challenges and came out ahead.

In almost any field, it isn’t just brains or innate talent that propels people to the top. It’s strength of character and endurance, the essential ingredients of fortitude. Most people already have more grit than they realize. Bring it to the surface by writing down all the obstacles you’ve already overcome. Include details of how you got through them and what you learned.

This exercise helps recognize the ability to endure, a trait that often remains hidden from many people until they actually look at it. Fortitude means doing things you’ve never done before. Whether running a marathon, travelling to a foreign country, or taking a role in an unfamiliar area of the business, reach outside your comfort zone. Push yourself and create new boundaries. The result will be a level of fortitude once beyond your reach.

Self-efficacy. Beyond self-esteem, self-efficacy is the underlying belief in your ability to attain a set of objectives. Leaders lacking this intangible tend to make safe decisions. Extraordinary leaders put risk in context with their abilities. They know their boundaries of competence and masterfully exploit them.

By doing so, they accomplish more than anyone expects of them and motivate others to do the same. Belief in your own task-specific competence can be enhanced by seeking the help of a mentor or role model. It doesn’t need to be part of a formal process. Spend time with someone you look up to. Build confidence through osmosis. Extraordinary leadership is contagious.

Even those with strong self-efficacy have particular triggers that occasionally disrupt their self-assurance and ability to succeed. What situations cause you to question yourself? What scripts do you play in your head that work against you? You must understand these self-defeating patterns of behaviour in order to re-record those scripts and create a more positive picture of your capabilities.

Dana Wilson is a freelance writer.

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