Let's begin with the bald truth: we draw our leaders from a pool of imperfect beings.
Millions of years of evolution have yet to yield The Perfect Leader. We all come from imperfect families, have experiences that blind us or make us needy, and as a result we have cognitive biases that can lead to poor decisions.
Quite honestly, many of us are drawn to leadership as much by our weaknesses as by our strengths.
One common bias that many business leaders have is the belief that reason, logic, and expertise are the primary ingredients for successful leadership. They are important, but they are not the whole magilla.
Expertise is necessary, but it's not sufficient. Leaders need something else, a kind of special sauce that appeals to the non-rational taste buds of those being led.
This special sauce has many names, such as empathy, charisma, and presence. It's hard to define, but you know it when you feel it. However, it has its own problems too, because those who have it often recognize they have it, and they may use it to their own advantage--to the detriment of those they lead.
I believe that the word empathy comes closest to the quality I'm trying to evoke because to me it suggests a degree of caring that the other words do not convey.
Part of empathy is the ability to understand how others are thinking and feeling, but if that were the full definition, it would make empathy the ultimate tool for manipulation.
In my mind, empathy also comprises caring about the well-being of others. Caring enough to take action and make decisions that go against one's own short-term self-interest in order to achieve a greater good.
Few of our leaders seem to be able to demonstrate the whole magilla that would include expertise and empathy. They appeal to our biases and needs, but seem to be unable to elevate our thinking and awareness.
As a result, in some remote corner of our minds, we wonder why they want to be leaders, and we are forced to conclude that they must be in it for themselves.
After all, history tells us the first instinct of those in power is to hold on to what they've got.