Are leaders found or made?
A client of mine recently was lamenting the performance of a manager on her staff. “He’s just not a leader—he doesn’t have it in him.” I hear this thought a lot–the belief that leaders are found, not made. While clearly some people have more natural aptitude for leadership than do others, leadership is teachable, and leaders can be developed. While I don’t think that training and development alone can make a leader great, I do think any leader—with effective training and development–can become better than he or she is to begin with.
All leadership development discussions and efforts need to start with a basic and challenging question: “what is leadership?”
Jane is assertive and directive, using her organizational authority skillfully to bring about the outcome she most wants. Mark is personable and friendly–gently facilitating discussions, planting his ideas and nurturing their acceptance toward their ultimate adoption. Keisha is an expert in her field, and she employs her superior knowledge and experience to convince others that her solutions are the best courses of action. The difficulty in defining leadership comes in finding a definition that fits equally for the detailed and the visionary, the logical and the personal, the gregarious and the reflective and the directive and the facilitative. If leadership can come from all of these disparate angles, how does one definition sum up the concept?
What is leadership?
The following definition often sparks a lively debate, but I think it covers the concept and all of its manifestations nicely.
Leadership is the use of power with people toward some desired end.
Let’s take a closer look at this definition and through it see the logic underpinning the components of most leadership training.
Leadership needs people. It might seem obvious, but leaders require followers. There is no leadership on a desert island. Leadership requires communication, relating or connecting to another person or to groups of people, so as a result, effectiveness as a leader is greatly impacted by not just technical competencies and experience, but on self-awareness, emotional intelligence and relationship management and communication skills.
Just as leadership cannot exist without people, it cannot exist without a direction or goal. The very thought of leadership suggests movement. Leadership movement can be motivated toward or away from something—to reach a desired state (toward) or to escape or transcend a bad situation (away), but either way, leaders influence people to do something or go somewhere. A destination or goal is required.
The most provocative element of this definition is that leadership is about using power. It is important to note that power is—in this definition and in general–value-neutral; it is neither good nor bad. Power simply exists, and leadership is the utilization of power with people. Of course, there are many different kinds of power, so there is a host of different tools that a leader can deploy, but leaders who are able to access their power, to match the right tool for the right time, hold a key to effectiveness and success.
Personal power is controlled by an individual. Charisma, charm, knowledge, skills, and abilities are all examples of personal power. Organizational power is conferred upon individuals from groups and is dependent on the group’s collective will or belief. Positions that bring organizational power involve authority, status, financial control, and the ability to reward and punish others. There are also hybrid power sources like knowledge of a system and its bureaucracy, knowing how and by whom things actually get done and gaining that knowledge by pulling the appropriate strings, which combines both organizational and personal power.
Power is too often mistaken for authority. Authority is a type of power, but having authority alone–a lofty title, a company car, a corner office–does not give someone the ability to achieve organizational goals. The appointed chairperson of a committee may have organizational authority, but it may be the admin assistant’s skill set, relationships, and knowledge of the system that give her the real power to pull the team together and/or get a goal accomplished. I would argue she is the more effective leader.
This is not to discount the benefits of organizational power and authority. Sometimes people who appear to be slow to influence others can, once in a position of authority, blossom into powerful, effective leaders with the weight and will of the organization behind them. It is a complicated equation. Power is not authority, and neither power nor authority on its own is leadership.
It is because this definition works–leadership is the use of power with people toward some desired end—that we know that leaders can be made and taught. While some people find using power and interacting with people easier than do others, the elements of leadership are actions and skills that most people can pick up and sharpen. Relationship management, communication, giving and receiving feedback, understanding and utilizing different power bases—these are all skill sets that can be analyzed, studied and practiced.
OKA’s Leadership Tracks and Tools
Psychological Type, with its focus on self-awareness and self-management–by focusing on hard-wired cognition and by reflecting values, communication patterns, and motivation–has great power as a leadership development tool.
The EQ-i gives us access to the dynamic field of research and training around Emotional Intelligence. Being so tightly focused on understanding and even changing behavior, the EQ-i is one of the best leadership development tools I know.
The Influence Style Indicator (ISI) highlights and measures your connection to the five primary ways we each approach the act of influencing others–how we hold and use our power to get what we want. As such the ISI is a wonderful and focused leadership development assessment.