The Perfect Leader, book excerpt by William F. Merck II

January 11, 2023

The Perfect Leader Myth

William F. Merck II, Author, Leader, Speaker

by William F. Merck II

On Book Excerpts | Leadership
Searching for and selecting the leadership team for an organization is a crucial exercise for organizational success. Leaders cannot be purchased as standard interchangeable units at a Leaders “R” Us store.

Leaders are humans with the various strengths and frailties that come with the human experience. So, the candidates for leadership positions will bring their unique attributes to the dance.

Some people are born extroverts and are temporarily mistaken for leaders because they command attention. That’s not to say they can’t become good leaders but they are not born with such a skillset. In fact, some of the best leaders I’ve encountered were actually introverts at heart. Curiously, I have noticed that some leaders exhibit introverted characteristics in small intimate settings but put them in a large group or on a stage and a true extroverted personality emerges! This combination does not disqualify them from being included in a list of top leaders; it only means that their comfort level when interacting with others varies with the setting. This is one example of the variations in the attributes of potential leaders to be considered as pluses or minuses in a selection process.

Perfect, how?

Other leaders I have observed and worked for were very forceful, strong-willed, and hard chargers. Their personality ruffled feathers and caused some, inside and outside of the organization, to suggest they be removed. However, they were perfect fits for the position they were hired to fill. In some cases, the organization was failing and needed to be rebuilt. In others, there were large projects to accomplish that could not be done with the existing staff, requiring letting some people go and bringing in new hires with different skillsets.

Some organizations have embarked on a strategic path with goals to be met that have seemingly impossible deadlines. All of these various scenarios call for a leader who is forceful and driven. Will the attributes of that particular type of leader help them to survive in the long haul? This becomes a question of adaptability on the leader’s part once the incredible pressure to achieve is relieved. Many cannot make the change, nor do they necessarily want to, because they thrive under that kind of pressure; they become skilled at living in a highly-charged world.

I have seen leaders who have a gift for turning an organization around and achieving outsized goals with a tendency to move on to new opportunities once they have successfully achieved the specific goals they were hired for. There is nothing inherently wrong with that.

Effective leaders will not check all the boxes one would desire in a theoretical “perfect” leader. In the practical world, an effective leader needs to be able to check the boxes that are applicable to leading in the unique environment they are chosen to lead. These environments change over time and, as they do, the leader may need to change as well.

Effective leaders will not check all the boxes one would desire in a theoretical “perfect” leader.

Just as you were once under consideration as a leader, you’ll want to keep these thoughts in mind if you are chosen to be a member of a search committee to fill leadership roles in your organization one day. The selection committee will start the process with a job description, which will probably be rather generic.


Because many unfilled senior job positions have problems that need to be solved that no one wants to air in a public advertisement. The search committee should be familiar with what is needed well beyond the job description. The committee will discuss a list of attributes they would like to see in the candidates prior to interviews beginning. Leaping tall buildings in a single bound and having x-ray vision will probably not be attainable by any of the candidates in the pool.

You will see one candidate with some of what you desire but not everything. Another will have the attributes missing from the first, but not the ones the first offered. Many times, I heard committee members say they wished they could meld two candidates together to get one perfect applicant. In the end, a choice must be made.

Leaders cannot be purchased as standard interchangeable units at a Leaders “R” Us store.

The basic requirements to look for in the candidate you finally choose are relatively simple. You already know:

  • the environment the person is being chosen to lead,
  • the problems the new leader will face,
  • the strengths and the weaknesses of the staff the new leader will inherit, and
  • the external forces that will work with and work against the new leader.

So, your final choice should be the candidate who exhibits the particular strengths required to achieve the outcomes needed from this leadership role by the organization.

Realize that some of the strengths on the original list the committee started with may be nice to have but aren’t essential for this role. The question is whether the final candidate ultimately be effective in their job. They will not need to check all the boxes for the theoretically perfect leader. They will only need to check those that are necessary to effectively accomplish the particular job you are hiring them for. There is no universally perfect leader, but there are leaders who may be perfect for the role they are chosen for.

If you would like to explore this concept and more on the topic of leadership, please consider reading my book, So, You Want to Be a Leader.


So, You Want to Be a LEADER

Being a leader is not easy for anyone. Thankfully, this book transforms more than a half-century of leadership experiences into a practical handbook for those looking to excel in leadership roles. In candid fashion, So, You Want to Be a Leader: Secrets of a Lifetime of Success, reveals what works—along with an unvarnished examination of what doesn’t—in a myriad of work-related situations.

On Leadership



BREADCRUMBS: Finding a Philosophy of Life

In Bill’s new book released on March 14, 2023, the author uses stories from his life’s journey to illustrate points in time that helped form his view of the world and his place in it. From growing up in Southern Georgia in the 1940s, to becoming a military officer and a corporate leader, he discovers a nexus between early feelings and subsequent notions and beliefs.

On Philosophy