This quality is a little off the beaten leadership path. When you think of exceptional leaders, your mind normally runs to qualities like charisma, integrity, self-discipline, executive presence, exemplary communications skills, and so on. But this rarely discussed quality is arguably as essential as any of them. The one surprising quality every leader needs? The hide of an armadillo.
Why? Because at high leadership levels the winds of protest, criticism and potential attack from many directions can be gale force. Thus the armor-plated hide of an armadillo… the ability to stoutly deflect criticism and keep making progress undaunted by it… is always valuable.
Senior management is no place for delicate flowers, for the overly sensitive. A good tough impregnable hide helps in many ways.
It helps you handle criticism – Criticism in the business world can come from all quarters. To start with, let’s try your board, your shareholders, your customers, your sales force, your competitors, your regulators… not to mention a possible phalanx of executives within your own organization who’d like your job. Your armor helps you accept criticism without letting it weaken you or drag you down. Some criticism may be fair and thoughtful, but much will be politically motivated or nonsensical. A few relevant lines from Rudyard Kipling’s famous poem, “If.”
If you can keep your head when all about you / Are losing theirs and blaming it on you…
Kipling didn’t write this for the business world, but he might as well have; it’s sound counsel.
It helps you handle self-doubt – A tough outer shell helps keep the demons of doubt at bay. Not to say one shouldn’t be self-aware – but there’s a difference between being insightful and being paralyzed by uncertainty. A hard shell lets you stay resolute when you need to be, not unduly distracted by stones and arrows in your path.
It helps you keep moving forward – Over the course of a long career I was told at various times that I wasn’t executive material… that I couldn’t handle conflict… that I wasn’t a good strategic thinker… that I wasn’t decisive enough (among many other things) – all pretty substantive charges. If I’d let every criticism ever lobbed my way bother me, I might never have got out of bed in the morning. Which is why I felt an armadillo-like hide was always a useful quality to cultivate.
The inspirational imagery of leadership is populated with kingly lions, soaring eagles and the like. We don’t hear much about an armor-plated native of South America often not much larger than a cocker spaniel. But that’s too bad. Their unique strengths can help keep a career on course.
Sometimes the best offense is a very good defense.
This article first appeared on Forbes.com.
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