Boringness: The Secret to Great Leadership?

Boringness: The Secret to Great Leadership

Like so many others Joel Stein imagined that all leaders should be inspirational speechmakers, and alpha-male yelling movie stars and sports players. However, in this months Harvard Business Review Stein questions his preconceptions of What Defines a Great Leader? Stein spent time with a range of leaders  ( fire chiefs, army captains, Boy Scout troop leaders) for his new book – Man Made: A Stupid Quest for Masculinity, and learned that his vision of what makes a good leader was all wrong.

How did these real-life leaders differ?

  • Many where quiet listeners who let other people make most of the decisions.
  • They weren’t particularly charismatic. Or funny.
  • They weren’t the toughest guys in the pack.
  • They didn’t have a Clintonian need to be liked, or a Patton-like intensity.
  • They were, on the whole, a little boring.

How do they lead?

  • Stein’s leaders didnt weigh each decision based on a desire to keep their team happy, or to be fair to each person.
  • They had a way of doing things they believed was right (they don’t waver – they follow the rules)
  • They  run a clean, orderly house so the team can respond with military precision.
  • They understand that they arent the most important person.


Inspiring people through your personality is a risky, exhausting endeavor.  When people know they are doing things exactly right they seem  to be both proud and assured, and will do anything for their leader. Great leaders have a  deep belief in their mission, and this makes other people believe in that mission.


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