If you want to learn from biographies of leaders, from their inspirations, about their traits, maybe tricks, read about Lincoln, but also Mao; about Gandhi, but also Al Capone; about Steve Jobs but also Hitler; Churchill but also Castro; Obama and Stalin.
I know. What a crowd! But this is precisely the point. They all were leaders.
What we usually do is to pick the good guys and extract characteristic and traits that suit our confirmation bias. We have preconceived ideas, and we find them confirmed, easily.
We want to believe that a good leader is somebody who has a great vision, sense of destiny, determination, resilience, capacity to draw people and inspire, be motivational and perhaps charisma, fully committed, and role model. I have just described Hitler.
Second problem – please tell your mind to stop playing games- let’s assume we find four super-clear, super-solid, ‘research shows’ type of traits. You examine 50 extraordinary leaders and conclude they all have: resilience (they encountered difficulties but never gave up), clear vision (they know exactly whet they want to do), they are humble (not big egos, unpretentious even) and, say, are able to create great teams around them. Does it sound as one of these ‘research shows’?
This is close to meaningless because you could easily find another ‘conclusion of’ another set of 50 leaders who encountered difficulties but never gave up, had a clear vision, they knew exactly whet they wanted to do, were not big egos and created great teams around them, but, you know what, failed miserably.
And you make things a little bit more depressing (in terms of those universal leadership things) I bring here the Churchill paradox. Originally distrusted by his party, leads the nation to victory and then is dumped in 1945. Was he a bad leader before and after the war?
These are some reasons why leadership is either an easy matter or a complicated affair depending on what you want to see (or hear, or believe). And most models and books fall in some kind of trap, perhaps similar to the above.
I have a solution! My rule of thumb is that for every study of Jobs you don’t only consider, Hitler, but, fundamentally, also, the guy in the evening youth club who glues those youngsters for good, the chief volunteer (unknown) who manages to bring in another 10 more with her, and the lady with the old car who sets stall every evening in the corner with bowls of soups for the homeless.
Yes, look in the library, look in google, look in history, by all means, but also look around. In the streets, in churches, in youth clubs and anything else near you. If you look, you’ll see it. They all may have a common characteristic (here we go again); they don’t have a book written about them.