Do You Have What it Takes to be an
Effective Leader?

image of Jillian Michaels

Last night I tuned in for one of my favorite guilty pleasures — watching The Biggest Loser on NBC.

The episode featured celebrity trainer Jillian Michaels being hurled off of the Auckland Sky Tower, the highest structure in the Southern Hemisphere.

(OK, she had a sort of bungee cord apparatus that kept her from falling to her doom. But you know there were still some cheers).

Michaels is one of those people you either love or loathe. She screams at the contestants. She’s snotty. She calls her workouts “beatings.” Professional trainers cringe at her technique.

She’s also widely adored and credited with inspiring thousands — maybe hundreds of thousands — of people to lose weight. And those contestants she screams at all seem to genuinely love her.

So is she a role model for how we can lead and inspire our audiences? Or an abusive train wreck we should do anything to avoid?

Well … it depends.

Some people truly want a boot in the backside

We have a character inside the Third Tribe who’s got a big personality. He expresses himself strongly, he’s not real big on self-doubt, and he likes to throw down challenges. He’s got a huge heart, but he’s not exactly soft-spoken.

Some Tribers absolutely love his message. He tells them to quit making excuses — to get off their lazy backsides and get to work. And they feel inspired and energized.

Others just want to smack him. My guess is they’re the types who kick themselves enough without any help from anyone else. They find him demotivating, depressing, or just plain annoying.

Some people want empathy and support

Interestingly enough, our outsized friend has a business partner who’s soft-spoken, humble, and empathetic.

He’s extremely effective at helping people overcome their fears, deal with self-limitations, and move forward at their own pace.

Those who prefer the boot-in-the-pants method may not even hear my soft-spoken friend. He’s not the right advisor for them.

But quieter souls are glad he’s there, and they get a lot of value out of his approach. They can follow his advice and benefit from it, where the boot-camp style just leaves them cold.

So which one is the real leader?

You probably have a strong answer — the answer that works for your personality.

You might think our big-voiced friend has the right stuff. That he’s not afraid to tell it like it is. That he gets results.

You might think his soft-spoken business partner would be great at helping people find answers within themselves. That he helps his own tribe find confidence by showing them just how much a shy guy can accomplish.

And in both cases, you’d be right.

I’d last about 10 minutes working out with Jillian Michaels before clubbing her in the head with a barbell. But thousands of people would do anything to train with her.

It’s got to come from you

Putting on someone else’s leadership style will only make you look like a fool.

Can you imagine anything less effective than Gary Vaynerchuk trying to imitate Seth Godin?

Chris Brogan trying to be Donald Trump?

How about Robert Scoble trying to be Arianna Huffington?

Notice that in each of these cases, the reverse is just as ridiculous.

If you’re going to lead your audience (and if you’re running a business online, that should be your goal), you’ve got to start with your own gifts. You can’t put on someone else’s leadership style like some weird costume.

But there’s more to it than just “being yourself”

Every social media pundit tells you to be authentic, to be transparent, to be yourself.

That’s important. But it’s not the whole game.

I’d like to invite you to join us for a new series of webinars and articles on what we call the Authority Rules.

We talk about where leadership really comes from … the elements that go into becoming the valued, trustworthy expert in your topic.

  • How to attract the audience you need to become successful. Until you can attract attention, you can’t play the game, much less win it.
  • How to engage that attention and become the likable expert people trust in your topic. Stop selling and start teaching … it’s more fun and more effective.
  • How to convert that engagement into sales. It’s great to have fans, but happy customers are even better.

And it all kicks off with a special report by Brian Clark outlining The 10 Rock-Solid Elements of Effective Online Marketing.

If you want to lead your market, if you want to win the game of online marketing, you need to know that Authority Rules.

Those who cultivate true authority will thrive. Find out how to get it here.

About the Author: Sonia Simone is co-founder and CMO of Copyblogger Media. Share your leadership style with Sonia on twitter.

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  1. Sonia:

    The best question to ask is this. If a billionaire would teach you to be a billionaire, whom would you engage: Mark Elliot Zuckerberg, Donald Trump, Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, etc.?

    But we always remember leadership in terms of money: who makes the most millions or billions.

    But will these people be remembered 100 years from now? Perhaps history remembers leadership for other factors: Napoleon as the military genius, Socrates as the thought leader, or Miss Fields as the cookie guru.

    But for us, it’s the ability to attach a following and customers.

    Randy

    • @Randy Taking your thought further we will remember parents, teachers or friends who guided us during tough times. People who really made a difference. Now we cant be a teacher to millions online and customize ourselves for every reader… we can at least go ahead and add value to their lives. Write for them, engage them and direct them. Whatever it takes a soft spoken assurance or a tight kick… Thats the way we add value.

    • That’s a very easy one for me: Richard Branson.

      Billionaires are remembered when they build something of lasting value. So Rockefeller, Carnegie, etc. are remembered.

      • Branson, the perfect integrator of interests if there ever was! :) True that!

      • Yes, but the debate is still out on whether Rockerfeller and Carnegie were really ROBBER BARRONS who stole and abused the everyday workers to line their own pockets and support THEIR favorite causes. They would love the current “give more tax breaks to the rich” ….

  2. At the end of the day, you have to pick your style/personality and stick to it. If you are going to take one approach when you start, you can’t flip over to the other side once you’ve made a name for yourself. You’ll never be able to appease everybody, so you have to find what works best for you, your business and your goals and run with it.

    • Well said, Nick!

      It is very annoying when you can clearly see that someone is trying to “put on a different hat.” It’s almost as though every sentence is forced and yet there’s just a touch of insecurity (justifying or apologizing) throughout.

      By the way, this was just a GREAT article, Sonia!

  3. You know, Sonia, I was wondering this very thing last night. There’s a huge trend in online sales pages with videos of marketers telling potential customers “You suck, you’ll never amount to anything and you don’t deserve my product but I’ll sell it to you anyway. Step up to MY level if you want to win at this game.”

    I couldn’t believe anyone would think buying from someone like that was a good idea, but I guess you’re right, some people don’t just want tough love, they want a serious kick in the pants.

    • I’m the same, I always find it hard to believe that approach works, but I’ve seen people really respond to it.

      Nobody, for my money, abuses his audience with quite the panache that Dan Kennedy does. :) But there are quite a few in that camp.

      • The bossy, blowhard style is so different from who I am and what I respond to that it’s hard to imagine it actually works. But you’re right – Jillian and Dan must be on to something…

        Does this mean I should threaten my subscribers if they don’t do pushups before pushing out websites…? :)

  4. Definitely! It’s very important when doing something it comes from you, the want or love for it comes from you. Nobody can make anyone do anything, they can only inspire them and so it is up to that person to decide how tough or how much they need to go in order to succeed. I remember people use to tell me that you can’t help someone if they don’t want help, no matter how hard you try or how hard you push them.

  5. I wouldn’t last long with Jillian either. If I was working out with her, you would find her stuffed in a gym locker. Actually, she could probably stuff me in a gym locker.

    I appreciate this article, because it strengthens my resolve to continue leading in my way rather than becoming a copycat of someone I respect.

    Thanks for writing this Sonia!

    • Russ, I figure she has to turn her back on us sometime. And then, wham!

      Glad I could help you keep the faith. :) It is tempting to try and become the people we admire.

  6. Leadership is a lot like SEO: If you over-do it, if you fill it up with a bunch of contrived attempts at gaming the system, if you don’t have any real substance, if you make it into something you’re not, you fail.

    Isn’t it funny how the people who refer to themselves as “leaders” (as opposed to third-party references) aren’t really leaders at all? True leaders never say, “I’m a leader!” True leaders don’t proclaim anything… they just ARE.

    Stop worrying about leadership and focus more on do-ership. That’s the real answer.

    • Thanks Andrew, that’s an interesting comparison with SEO — esp. as Google uses the term “authority” to describe the credibility and rank-worthiness of a site.

      • Thats a very apt analogy. As with SEO you dont make sure that you rank number one, you actually just make the Search engine crawl and understand you better. Same with a leader I remember some one explaining me, you cant force a follower to do something, all you can do is just inspire and let him take his own path!

    • I do agree with Andrew, being a leader is not a goal, it’s a way to reach it.

  7. For the past several months, I’ve been dying my hair pink, listening to Depeche Mode, eating green apples, writing articles with “suck” in them, and wearing women’s underpants. Results inconclusive thus far. ;)

  8. Sonia,

    You’re on the right track. There are at least five general leadership styles — Dictator (Jillian Michaels bullying), Democrat (Letting the team vote on what to do), Populist (trying to be a friend to everyone), Pushover (going with the flow “whatever”), and the Coach (bringing out the best in each everyone and building team spirit).

    Each follower responds best to one of these leadership styles and a good leader know when to kick butt and take names and when to loosen the reins and let someone “run with it”.

    John

  9. Yahoo! For once, I figured out a blind item!! And, with that information, I can say this:

    At least, in both cases (Jillian and Mystery Blowhard) both walk their talk – as far as I can see, anyway. She has ripped abs, and he makes a ton of money. So they’re both qualified to yell at fat people and lazy marketers, respectively.

    Unless, that is, it turns out that she barfs up her pizza had her abs sculpted by a plastic surgeon, or he’s lying through his butt cheeks about how much he makes. (Can you lie through the butt cheeks themselves? Yes, because I said so.)

    • Absolutely. If our vociferous friend hadn’t achieved a lot of success, hadn’t done what he encourages others to do, he’d just be an ass and none of us would waste any time on him. :) He’s achieved the results that others want, and that plus his own style are what give him authority.

      I’ll add to that, too, that I believe both our friend and Jillian really care about the people they’re talking to. I think that’s an important element.

  10. Another interesting point: the style that motivates you may not be the best style for you to employ as a leader.

    I used to tell my trainer that she was free to call me weak and in general goad me into performing. I explained that I’d been through Boot Camp and found that kind of thing motivational.

    However, when I’m leading a group myself, I tend to be a much more inspirational, cheerleader type. I can play the bad guy, kick in the pants if I have to, but it’s not my preferred leadership style.

  11. Leadership is effective when it gives people results, irrespective of the means to that end.

    As you pointed out, there are no magic formulas or successful “white brand” leaders. You just have to be able to inspire people – whether by hugging them or punching them or anything else you can think of. Just as long as you can get them the results they crave, you can get away with pretty much anything, personality-wise.

    The fact there’s such a rising trend for corrosive and provocative leaders, well… that’s probably because those approaches make typical sales angles look bland. People have grown desensitized to fluffy white marketer’s lies, so often they’ll take the bait more easily when it’s delivered by a rugged and controversial character.

  12. I enjoyed reading this Sonia!

    Id like to add that I’ve been one to reject authority in the past because I’ve found myself mislead more often than not. Leaders that I look up to tend share more than the ask for in return. I think a good leader is more of a servant to the group they lead. Just a thought on selflessness.

    I noticed you are giving away three free webinars with your newsletter! That’s exactly what I’m talking about.

  13. I like this — I actually do feel like “be yourself” encapsulates a lot of the important message but should be augmented by something like “be your best yourself” or “show yourself”. Sometimes simply being yourself isn’t enough you need to express that authentic person in strong manner whether that’s through loud and brash or quiet and confident.

  14. In the book, Dealing with People you Can’t Stand they list 10 types of people: The Tank, The Sniper, the Grenade, The Know-it-all, The Think-they-know-it-all, The Yes Person, The Maybe Person, The Nothing Person, The No Person, The Whiner.

    Jillian would definitely fit the Tank. You are right that though her style works for some it would be a killer for others.

    There are many different styles, and thank God. A true leader respects their followers and focuses on the results, adjusting style as needed.

    I’ll bet even Jillian adjusts when the camera’s aren’t rolling.

    • That’s apparently true — I found a few reports from BL contestants who said that she is actually very kind and supportive most of the time, but of course it’s the screaming that makes the best television, so that’s what tends to end up in the broadcasts.

    • Mary, you touch on a key point that disagrees with an aspect of Sonia’s great post. I disagree that a great leader sticks to the “one style”. A great leader IMO figures out what motivates an individual (or generally what motivates a specific group) and figures out a way to work with those motivations.

      Some will need to be yelled at, some need to be coaxed, etc…

      • I also think it depends on whether you’re leading a larger group (where you have to be more flexible), or you’re attracting a tribe that might be made more of a particular type.

        People who want more of a boot camp/tough love style don’t tend to sign up for my stuff, for example, so I’m not in the position of having to get better at that.

  15. The best leaders I think are the ones that don’t try so hard. They just do, and share, and motivate in the way people need to be motivated.

    • Tommy, I like the ones that take massive action and don’t make excuses as well my friend ;)

      Sonia, thanks for crafting this article as I think it’s important for people to understand where “coaches” are coming from and the different approaches some may take to help others achieve their goals and get actual results that they can see and be inspired by to receive more of.

      Some may like the boot camp style, where others the calm and comforting style… either way, it’s all about pushing yourself in a way to get the most results no matter what the learning style… wouldn’t you agree?

      • Totally. And I think every teacher/coach does have some mix of push and pull. Even I push, in my kumbaya way. :)

      • 100% agree.

        And I personally am finding the bootcamp style to be exactly what I need to keep myself motivated. Because I know better, and get into lazy slumps, and sometimes need a real boot in the ass to get going.

        With coaches though, I think it’s important to show that you’re knowledgeable in public, and you’re right not make any excuses. But really get into the ass kickery when someone’s paid you to kick their ass. Otherwise it can be tough to swallow.

        And really, do you want people coming to you when they’re low on self esteem? Sure they might be buyers, but isn’t it just an abusive cycle when you say “Take ACTION” they say “I’m Trying!” you say “BUY THIS, it will make life better” they say “OK I’ll buy it” you say “Take ACTION”… (and so the cycle continues)

        There is a middle ground, it doesn’t have to be kumbaya, and it doesn’t have to be massive hustle, it’s about making people feel empowered. And if the people aren’t empowered, find more people who will :-)

    • Right on, Tommy. Though I’d modify that to say “They just do, and share, and motivate in the way that’s authentic and true to them.”

      I’m a very upbeat, encouraging kind of coach. I can kick butts as hard as the next guy, but it would be totally unnatural for me to put someone down in order to do that. It just wouldn’t work — for me, or I suspect, for my client.

      People who want the put-down approach won’t gravitate to me, and that’s as it should be. To each her own, and the more fully we align with our true nature, the more we’ll magnetize the right people.

  16. Sonia, please, not another AWESOME product from Copyblogger! I can’t handle more goodness!

    Seriously though, great post. Was thinking about this myself recently, as my wife was telling me her financial counseling company is considering creating a Dave Ramsey program teaching the same stuff as him, but without the ridicule he brings. I told her it would be a great market to go after.

    I’m always amazed at the people who love to get screamed at.

  17. And then some people need both styles.

    As a teacher of students with learning disabilities I have learnt to bring out both teacher tough love and peppy pep talker.

    Students (and clients) need a little of both, it is just up to us to know to use both sides. I think the difficulty can be getting the balance correct

    Ainslie

  18. Everyone wants to be a *leader*. That’s fine. But guess what? Most of us are *followers* not leaders. So while it may be effective to learn how to be an effective leader, we still need to remember that being a leader means having followers. I guess that’s part of what’s great about interacting online: you can be both.

  19. I read the first few paragraphs and wondered if I knew where you were getting your inspiration from then you immediately confirmed it. Valuable insights. Reminds me of the “platinum rule” which I first read in the Art of Connecting – Do unto others according to their druthers. (not as you would have them do unto you.)

    I know from personal experience that it can be VERY hard to recognize, especially in the heat of the moment, that someone needs a different communication style than you are currently providing. And that somehow the loud ones often end up being perceived as the bad guy (my husband’s words/sorrow) if there’s a style mismatch even though it’s just as ineffective the other way around.

  20. I think people have to be careful with two things.

    1. Incorrectly thinking their audience needs a boot to the butt

    2. Incorrectly thinking they personally need a boot to the butt

    Why?

    Because as the Heath Brothers argue in their book, “Switch”:

    “What looks like resistance is often a lack of clarity. Change accelerates when people understand — in specific, behavioral terms — how to reach their goals.”

    Our Jillian-style friend in Third Tribe felt that people weren’t making progress because they’re “weak-minded”. But maybe, just maybe people are stuck because they feel overwhelmed by too many choices, and just need someone to tell them “take this small next step, and don’t think about anything else”.

    I DO think the boot-to-the-butt method is effective, but for getting attention through ALARM, not for long term sustained training and change.

    Jillian, Dr. Phil, and others who use alarm may deliver long term results for the people they help, but they’re probably not effective for the reasons they think they are.

  21. Hi Sonia!

    Good post.

    I say that whether or not someone is an effective leader depends on a whole lot of things or considerations. Not one type of leadership style could thrive in various kinds of settings. It varies and should tailor-fit the people the leader is leading. So, it’s a case-to-case basis and a good leader for one group may be the worst leader for another. One size doesn’t fit all.

  22. I have spent so much time beating myself up, the last thing I want or need is to have someone constantly telling me what I am not doing right.

    However, a combination of toughness with an encouraging tone goes a long way with me. For example, if I do a good job or if people are impressed with what I say or do, when they tell me so, it motivates me to want to continue to strive to be better.

    As a leader, I like the saying, “treat others the way you want to be treated”. Yelling and confronting is not my style, I tend to find something that I can build on in others and let them discover the value they hold within themselves.

  23. Really amazing stuff!

    I think I am a hybrid between the two. I try to be more soft-spoken in most of my writing while still having the strength to kick my audience in the bum from time to time.

    I’m not over-the-top in either direction though. I think we can learn a lot from both worlds on this one. Taking the time as a soft-spoken speaker to connect with the audience is necessary, but also being willing to tell them when they are being stupid and need to re-adjust is just as necessary.

    My struggle is with authenticity. I’m still finding my voice, allowing my own personality to come through more instead of the personality I think my audience wants to read.

  24. I’m up for the challenge, just not with Jillian Michaels. She’s great, but I’m more of a Tony Horton fan (p90x). And a Copyblogger fan so I signed up. Looking forward to it!

  25. If you have what it takes to be a good follower there are 90% becoming an effective leader too. I totally loved the read. Thanks for the share.

  26. James Clarke :

    It’s absolutely very important when doing something it comes from you, the want or love for it comes from you. Maximum can only inspire them and so it is up to that person to decide how tough or how much they need to go in order to succeed. I remember people use to tell me that you can’t help someone if they don’t want help, no matter how hard you try or how hard you push them. They are not using the best uses of ideas.

  27. Hi,
    I signed up last week to authority rules, but have not heard anything back

    • James, the messages may be caught in your spam filter. You might ask the administrator for your company’s email to “whitelist” us, or try an address like Gmail.

  28. Thanks for writing this Sonia,

    It comes down to getting what you need vs. what you want. But it’s not as simple as what a messenger says or what the intent was. The hard part is readiness to receive the message and act.

    If people need compassion and they get their ass kicked, the will not receive the message. If they need an ass-kicking, and get compassion, they won’t either.

    As the old saying goes…”When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.”

    And the teacher isn’t always who you think it will be. The best teacher is often not the one standing at the front of the room. In the thread you mention, the original post got my attention, the follow-ups kept it, and my reflection on both helped me to a point of readiness I hadn’t reached yet. So you can point to the teacher, but 3 fingers still point back at you. It’s all about whether you recognize that, and what you do with it.

  29. I think that Jillian is the quintessential example for this topic. I love her style but am not 100% certain that could work under it — I think because I’m also very headstrong and driven.

    In my day-to-day, I struggle with leadership vs. management, and it shocks me how few make the conscious decision to actually differentiate between the two.

    I want to be the effective leader, but I sometimes wonder if it’s unrealistic to also want to be an effective manager? Plus, I am not at all a fan of the “managing the manager” concept, for me, if defeats the purpose of both leadership AND management.

    Fantastic read, excited about this training!

    Thanks Sonia,

    Simren

  30. Sonia:

    All your examples of leaders are public, show-biz characters. I personally think a leader should be capable of both giving the boot and giving empathy. On top of that, I personally think that a leader’s main job is neither of those. A leader’s main job is to inspire his/her people to give their best in pursuing common-valued goals. The boots and empathy along the way is just the technical aspect of driving the team forward, but without inspiration, you will have an aching foot and a sore hand from doing too much of both actions.

    Am I too idealistic in this?

    • I don’t think that’s too idealistic, but we’re also talking about two different kinds of leaders.

      I’m talking about someone who leads a tribe of customers (they might be customers of a product, or they might be customers of an idea, like Seth Godin’s readers are). You’re talking about someone who leads a tribe of employees.

      Some celebrity CEOs, like Branson, do both.

      • Ah, in that case yes, I totally agree that a tribe of customers can only be led by someone with a unique, strong, theatrical, often extreme character.

  31. Hi Sonia, like the old saying “Leaders are not born, but they are made” people should horn their skills like ethical deportment, credible attitude, etc to be an effective leader.

  32. The best leaders are those who are chosen to lead by their followers

  33. James Clarke :

    I do 100% agree with Andrew too. Very amazing stuff and good point to judge. I love them all. Hope to see you more here in my next visit. Thanks.

  34. James Clarke :

    I agree with Andrew. And I astonished that I am viewing this blog many times. But each time I am leaving my comments because a very good and interesting issue is mentioned here. Thanks again for the post.