Leaders are Not Born, they are Grown
“Leadership is not magnetic personality – that can just as well be a glib tongue. It is not ‘making friends and influencing people’ – that is flattery. Leadership is lifting a person’s vision to higher sights, the raising of a person’s performance to a higher standard, the building of a personality beyond its normal limitations.” – Peter Drucker. In working with both large and small businesses over the years, I have seen and experienced countless views of leadership. Inspirational, motivational, results-driven, people driven, sales-driven, almost any business principle you can name has been used as the basis of a leadership paradigm. Some leaders are “handson” and “lead from the front” while others are “empowering” and “stay at the 30,000 foot level.” All of this came to a head when I needed to start assessing leadership for Brown-Forman and later for clients of Renaissance Executive Forums of Kentucky. The essential issue was always “what are the key attributes and skills of a leader?” Many times the answer appeared to be “it depends.” About three years ago, I began compiling all the “it depends” aspects and attributes. An interesting thing happened in that process.
Peter Drucker always contended, that “leaders are not born, they are grown.” During the research and compilation process it became evident how right he was.
John Adair’s work was probably the first demonstration that leadership is a trainable, transferable skill rather than being an exclusively inborn ability. His work encompasses much of the previous thinking on human needs and motivation by Maslow, Herzberg and Fayol, and his theory adds an elegant and simple organizational dimension. His view of leadership included the abilities of decision making, communication and time management.
His Action-Centered Leadership model sees three primary areas of responsibility: Task, Team and Individual.
The common base among all the successful leaders of successful companies I looked at was the application of the individual strengths to a situation which responded well to exactly that set of strengths. In effect, it was at the conjunction of need and ability that successful leaders were found.
There was one exception – the ability to derive learning from experience and to continue to grow and change was common to all successful leaders studied.
In small businesses, the skill requirements of the leader and the focus required to be successful will change as the business grows. What works for a small entrepreneurial firm with less than 10 employees is unlikely to work when the organization reaches 30 or 50 or 100 employees. The leader must change and grow on a personal level if he or she is to lead the business in successful growth.
In fact, Jim Fischer (The Growth Curve), found that leaders who did not manage that kind of growth and change, generally had to lay off much of the workforce and return to a level at which their skills were effective.
In other words, if the leader doesn’t grow, neither can the business sustain growth. So how can you or I grow in leadership skills? If learning is the only common element among successful leaders, then learning must also be the key to our success as leaders.
Three methods have proven most successful – a regular program of reading, direct coaching or training, a strong peer group. Let’s take a quick look at each: The reading program: As far back as Earl Nightingale, those who have studied success have touted the value of a regular program of reading. Every business owner should have a library of relevant business books. By spending a half-hour every day reading in these books, one continues the growth process. Successful executives I have coached look to buy at least one new book every month to supplement their existing library. In this way they keep up with the latest trends and thinking on business.
Coaching or Training: There are a great many opportunities in this area. In looking for a coach or training, the most important thing is to find someone who can assess your situation and provide specific help accordingly. Today there are far too many who pass themselves off as coaches or trainers who actually provide the same program regardless of one’s individual circumstances.
This is not to say there is not value since any learning tends to be beneficial. But for the best return on your investment, a more specific approach is superior.
Peer Groups: A regular group of business owners with a structured meeting program can provide not only great learning, but will also provide more specific development opportunities. A peer group structure is important. The facilitator should have a depth of business experience in order to successfully match peers by their needs. In addition, he or she must be skilled in helping each owner leverage the experience of the group to facilitate their own learning.
Regardless of the process or processes selected, you must still retain the primary responsibility for your own development. You must have a good idea of your own strengths (and weaknesses) in the areas of decision-making, communication and time-management. You must also balance development in the three primary areas of responsibility identified by John Adair: Task, Team and Individual.
Only after seeing to your own development as a leader, can you hope to begin the task of developing your organization and employees.
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