The purpose of leadership is to create more leaders, not more followers.
Early in my business career the big question being asked in MBA classes and academic circles was whether leaders are born or made. Those who believe leaders are born cite examples of kids at school who stood out above the rest, having a high degree of charisma, determination, persuasive ability and natural talent. The “leaders are born” theory was most evident on the sports field as well as in the school yard. At a young age a few individuals displayed raw leadership qualities. We called them “natural leaders”.
For several decades, especially during the hectic 80’s and 90’s, management gurus wrote extensively about “charismatic” leadership, citing example after example of strong-willed, outspoken, charismatic individuals at the top of major corporations. They rose to the top and were able to build successful organizations largely due to their charismatic personality traits.
After over 35 years of working with senior executive teams and consulting on culture change, turnarounds and strategy execution, for me the case is closed. Leaders are made, not born. And it takes more than just a few personality traits to make effective leaders. There are lots of people with the title of leader (boss, CEO, Chairman, President, Prime Minister, etc.) who are extremely ineffective leaders. Many have huge incomes, control over vast budgets and thousands of people, but over the long run wind up making their companies, and their countries, worse off, not better.
Building effective leaders is a complex task that requires at least three critical ingredients; education, purpose and the ability to enroll others.
The first ingredient in building effective leaders is an education on how to lead. Leadership education can be structured or unstructured and often comes in the forms of leadership training, mentoring by those who have been there before, and personal coaching. In our western society the education of a leader is often less formalized than in societies with hereditary expectations concerning leadership. Besides a good basic education, future leaders are taught by special tutors about the expectations and obligations of leadership, as well as trained in special leadership “rituals”.
Consider Prince William of the United Kingdom, potential heir to the throne. He went to St. Andrews for a general education but also received specific mentoring and coaching in his role as the future leader of his country. And his military education at Sandhurst also focused on leadership development. In fact, militaries the world over offer not only specific skill training in the craft of war and related activities, but also have developed focused leadership education programs designed to turn out effective officers and military leaders.
But education alone is not sufficient to create effective leaders. A leader must have a purpose that is bigger than themselves, that includes the welfare and wellbeing of others. A purpose that includes a vision of a better tomorrow. Many dictators and heads of state have the narrow purpose of enriching themselves at the expense of others. Consider the billions of dollars siphoned off by Robert Mugabe from his country, Zimbabwe, leaving himself enriched and his country one of the poorest on earth.
Leaders are often made by the challenges they take on, by the size of the problems they choose to tackle. The bigger the problem, the greater the leadership development opportunity. A smart person solving a problem alone is not leadership. Often the role of a leader is to help a group of people solve a problem that they haven’t been able to solve. The leader applies his or her leadership skills to the challenge and helps the group organize and focus their collective talents. A leader will also help the group believe in themselves and their capabilities in a way that inspires them with confidence and a “can do” attitude.
Inherent in the ability to solve big challenges is the third ingredient to building effective leaders. The ability to enroll others in a worthy cause or challenge. This is often the point at which many potential leaders fail. They fail to enroll and engage others. Demanding, ordering or goading others into working on a given task is not effective in the long run as they may apply their labors, but rarely their hearts and minds. Slave labor rarely creates breakthrough solutions to big challenges. Successful leaders use motivational and influencing skills as well as the ability to discover and fan the dormant and inherent desires of their followers.
Today the world is crying out for leaders and leadership. We won’t have many to choose from until we get serious about developing leaders.
Tight Lines . . .
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