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  • Amina Aitsi-Selmi

Do you need more qualifications to be a leader? [Wise Wednesdays]

This question came up on the last webinar as well as on a leadership training I did for a group of bright dentists specialising in population health with Health Education England.

The question of “getting more qualifications” also comes up quite often in one form or another in initial coaching conversations. It’s part of the High Achiever Paradox. You might like an extra qualification (because you’re good at those or it’s just nice and tangible) but you still won’t feel qualified for what you need to do next. That’s because a qualification isn’t what you really need.

As people start to sense a new possibility for their lives and careers they also sense uncertainty (which is a natural part of change). The passage is uncertain. So they start to look for things to hold on to. It’s as if they were saying: if I pass an extra test will that guarantee safe passage?

It’s quite natural to hope for this since the educational system is built on the idea that qualifications guarantee you safety and status in society. But the school of life doesn’t work that way.

The overwhelming majority of people don’t achieve a life even close to what they’re capable of. Abraham Maslow posited that fear of uncertainty sabotages their potential for greatness. After all, not only does the change (and leadership) process itself entail uncertainty, since it’s true that you might not succeed, but even if you did, how do you know you’ll be happier? (Research suggests we’re terrible at predicting what will make us happy and lottery winners have shown us how a big dream come true can turn into a nightmare rather rapidly.)

Interestingly, Maslow saw this fear of uncertainty as a fear of success rather than a fear of failure:

“We fear our highest possibilities…We are generally afraid to become that which we glimpse in our most perfect moments, under the most perfect conditions, under the conditions of greatest courage. We enjoy and even thrill in godlike possibilities we see in ourselves in such peak moments. And yet we simultaneously shiver with weakness, awe, and fear before these very same possibilities.” (The Farther Reaches of Human Nature, Abraham Maslow)

So what does that mean for qualifications? Should you go on a leadership course?

The short answer is: probably not.

The world doesn’t need more leaders with qualifications.

It needs more of these:

  • Leaders who can take risks for other people

  • Leaders who are willing to trade money and status for meaning and contribution (especially leaders in organisations with large wage ratios)

  • Leaders who can see the big picture without losing touch of everyday reality (the telescopic and microscopic view)

  • Leaders who give others room (rather than suck the air out of it)

  • Leaders who are proud of their quirks but don’t act them out blindly (there are plenty of great executive coaches who can help)

  • Leaders who can see clearly and calmly in a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) world.

  • Leaders who are willing to speak uncomfortable truths and be silent when it’s called for.

  • Leaders who feel compassion but don’t fall into compassion fatigue because they’re in it for the long haul and know their limits.

  • Leaders who know joy is a potent motivator.

  • Leaders who are willing to make tough decisions but don’t fall into decision-making fatigue because they know not everything is under their control.

These are just a few ideas. I’m sure you can see possibilities for 21st century leadership yourself. Everyone has their own unique path to weave in with the collective destiny. Your task it to discover it.

If you’re reading this, you have more than enough experience to build on.

So do you really think you need more qualifications? Or are you ready to become the leader the world really needs?

Have a great week,


p.s. If you’re ready to be the wise and warm leader the world needs, here are 3 things you can do:

1) Liked the article? Subscribe to the Wise Wednesdays community – wisdom straight to your inbox - and receive the Transformation Process worksheet to start breaking out of your limiting beliefs.

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