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Sunday, September 15, 2013

5 Characteristics Of The Mature Leader

So now I'm watching Season 2 of Homeland on Amazon Instant Video (well worth the investment). Briefly, the show demonstrates how one genius-like, incredibly dedicated CIA agent (Carrie) supported by her mentor (Saul) and an establishment leader (Estes) team up to stop a devastating terrorist attack on the United States.

By Episode 5 I realized that the most interesting character from a leadership perspective is not Carrie, the one who saves the day, everyone's favorite. ("Hey, she breaks the rules!" "Hey, she's brilliant.")

It's Saul.

People tend to focus on Carrie the way they focused on Jack Bauer in the similar TV series 24. Where the bureaucracy failed, the heroine or hero steps in. Instead of dialing 911, so to speak, they smash the glass and save the victim's life.

In the real world we cannot depend on Superman or Superwoman, but need mature leaders instead. Here are 5 things they do as represented by the character Saul. All of them have to do with a lack of ego and a total focus on results through people.

1) They mentor talent rather than promoting themselves

The immature leader counts on himself or herself. The mature leader looks to others. The actor who plays Saul, Mandy Patinkin, did an interview in which he explained that Saul's entire motivation is to help Carrie succeed, because she is the future. He has accurately discerned that her talent is to stop the attack while having compassion for people.

2) They manage difficult people effectively

In Episode 3 Saul is detained, provoked, and his diplomatic suitcase broken into by a Lebanese official. Rather than take it personally, Saul talks to the official about the consequences if he breaks the bag. I thought that was smart, but Saul is even smarter than that -- he had already concealed and retained a copy of the item that the official stole.

Similarly, he gets Estes to do what he wants by saying, in effect, "You'll look good if you agree and what will they say if you don't?"

And when Carrie deludes herself he looks her straight in the eye and says, "You are the smartest and the dumbest f***ing person I've ever known!"

3) They put themselves at personal risk

Mature leaders do not practice CYA (cover your a**). They get out into the field. Saul goes into Beirut, he doesn't stay in Washington DC. He gets a lead and pursues it, even though he knows the lead may be a terrorist and even though he knows he will be followed and possibly detained. The danger is particularly great because Saul is not only CIA, but a Jew as was called out by the official in Beirut.

4) They know when to stop

Carrie runs into the burning fire. Invariably in the show that works. But it doesn't work all the time. Saul knows when to stop the operation, get back into the car, walk away. At one point he and Carrie argue because she met a contact without him. She questions whether he trusts her and he says, it's about knowing that I don't have to trust you, because I could verify the information and report it up the chain.

5) They are fully committed

Saul understands the level of commitment the CIA requires. He loves his wife, but he understands when she leaves because he has no time for her. He values Carrie, but knows that when she's too ill to work she has to leave. The confrontation between Saul and Carrie that takes place in Season 2 is in fact about the fact that Saul has chosen CIA as a life, while Carrie doesn't want to end up "alone like him." Unfortunately, leadership can mean making that sacrifice and there is never a moment when Saul is not "all-in."

* All opinions my own.