EACH OFTEN, when I am asked to speak about leadership, the question of whether leaders are born or created arises. We know that the nature (genetic) versus nurture (environmental factors) of exceptional leaders has been debated for years.
Scottish historian and philosopher Thomas Carlyle, speaking about heroism in the 1840s, suggests that leadership traits are intrinsic, that a great leader is born with certain traits and attributes, and that these traits will emerge in the event necessary, allowing them to lead. The Great Man Theory explains history as the impact of great men or heroes, and that “universal history, the history of what man has accomplished in this world, is basically the history of great men who have worked here”.
In contrast, behavioral leadership theory states that leaders are created based on observing the behavior of leaders and how these traits can be imitated by others. Organizations invest time and resources to train emerging leaders. The training industry estimates that leadership training is a $357.7 billion global industry (2020), excluding expenditures by individuals on training programs or income by educational institutions. We can deduce that leadership skills can be learned, and that is why there are so many leadership books in print. A quick check shows that 15,000 headlines are in print based on a 2013 survey, not including published articles, and over 57,000 leadership headlines on Amazon.
But maybe it’s worth remembering what makes great leaders. There are many ways to lead, and you just need to find your mark of leadership.
The new paradigm
One of my favorite leadership authors, Bill George, who wrote Discover Your True North: Authentic Leadership, talks about authentic leaders who are “driven by moral and ethical purpose and never lose sight of their core values and principles. . They lead from the heart, cultivate long-term relationships, and demonstrate excellence through self-discipline.” He adds that these days you can no longer lead as “power-focused leadership, command, and control. , top-down.” The new paradigm, he adds, is one of a “know-it-all” type, instead of a “know-it-all” type of leader.
A key trait is that leaders inspire. After all, you can’t lead if no one is following. My leadership teacher, David Gergen, best known as an advisor to four US presidents, in his book Eyewitness to Power, describes the leadership gifts and shortcomings that led them to the White House. He notes that the best leaders inspire the troops – beyond the rhetoric, it’s about the message. Quoting US Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., he adds that every young person should participate in the passion of their generation and “should consider service to the country” as “hearts touched by fire”. .
faith and leadership
Leadership, in a capsule, is about faith – earning and keeping the faith of your followers. First, trust must be earned; only then can they be oriented towards a common vision. Personal integrity, according to Gergen, is the cornerstone; adding that believing in a leader also means that people must believe in the competence and consistency of the leader. Thus, the importance of character and ability, the prerequisites for gaining people’s trust. To be a good leader, you have to earn people’s trust – they want great leaders to succeed. They want to have faith that if the leader succeeds, they too will succeed.
The other side of the coin is humility. The ability to be without pride or arrogance. A leader who recognizes their equality with their followers is truly inspiring. To borrow a phrase from the Bible, “With pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.” (Proverbs 11:12)
The dangers of leadership
“Do what is right, not what is easy” is the often-quoted phrase, because leadership is not easy and can even be dangerous. “Leadership becomes dangerous,” as Harvard professors Ronald Heifetz and Martin Linsky write, “when leaders challenge people’s habits, values, and beliefs and people cannot see the bright future for which the rulers ask them to sacrifice themselves, but see only suggested possibilities requiring great loss”.
Indeed, the hard part is “…to actually wield power when you get to the top — to actually get things done,” according to Gergen. He is of the opinion that it is easy to become a leader, to reach the top, especially with the advent of social media. However, becoming a good leader is difficult because there are “… so many obstacles in the way of progress”.
This is where adaptive leadership is needed. Heifetz, one of the world’s foremost figures in the practice and teaching of leadership, says adaptive leadership is “the practice of mobilizing people to meet difficult challenges and thrive.” These leaders are “open-minded, self-correcting, and empathetic to their employees,” where adaptive leaders value each person’s opinion and each team member has the ability to solve challenges.
In conclusion, one last reminder. To quote Carl W. Buehne, “They may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel.” And so, don’t forget to convey your appreciation, thank them in public, praise their good work and, if possible, and with the help of social media, remember their birthdays.
The author completed his Masters in Public Administration at Harvard Kennedy School.