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Scott DeRue
Leadership professor

Scott DeRue

Scott DeRue is Assistant Professor of Management and Organizations at the University of Michigan Stephen M. Ross School of Business. With Maxim Sytch, he created the student-driven Leadership Seminar discussion group.

Leaders who are 'just like us'

Barack Obama still sneaks cigarettes. Gordon Brown has a mean temper. Surgeon General Regina Benjamin struggles with her weight. At what point do a leader's personal vices begin to undermine effectiveness? Is it better to hide them or acknowledge them?

There are at least two sides to every story. On the one hand, based on research by Bob Lord, individuals do in fact have ideals about what their leaders should look and act like. People who fit these idealistic images of leaders are readily endorsed as more effective. Nowhere in this research do smoking, bad tempers or heavy body-types make the list of idealistic images of leadership.

On the other hand, Bill George and others have championed the idea that authentically "being yourself" is what people gravitate toward and perceive as effective leadership. In that case, Obama, Brown and Benjamin should be themselves--smoke, get angry, and eat whatever you like.

I have a slightly different perspective that is probably somewhere in the middle of Lord and George.

I firmly believe that people want to relate to their leaders. People want to see themselves in their leaders and want to know that their leaders understand and can empathize with their own personal issues and challenges. People around the world struggle everyday with habits that they cannot break, and we all lose control over our emotions at times. I submit that Obama, Brown, and Benjamin--and every other leader around the world--will be best served by owning up to their personal challenges, acknowledge their struggles, and show unwavering courage and fortitude in trying to overcome these personal challenges and vices.

People want to be inspired. Show people that you are human and that you can empathize with them. And then lead by example. By showing the world, your organization, your community or your family that you are not perfect but that you committed to the best you can be, you will be the leader that we all want to follow.

By Scott DeRue

 |  March 1, 2010; 2:31 PM ET
Category:  Leadership weaknesses Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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