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Can everyone be a leader?


Ruth Spellman suggests that with the right training opportunities the skills that make a great leader can be learnt.

Asked who they think is a good leader, most people tend to cite Richard Branson. Some also focus on sporting icons, with Andrew Strauss' name coming to the fore since the England cricket team's reversal of fortunes. 

But bring the question closer to home and individuals tend to hold back. Very few people are willing to step forward and claim that they are the type of leader respected by others. It may be due to modesty. It may also be down to a fear that by claiming strong leadership skills, they may be setting themselves up for a fall. 

Yet research suggests that there is a much deeper reason. A study conducted by Chartered Management Institute (CMI) reveals a startling lack of confidence amongst the UK's management community. Just 7% think they are born to lead. 

It's an understandable perception given that business leaders have taken some huge knocks over the past two years, but it is worth remembering that Britain still has some good leaders at the helm of many organisations. They may not share the charisma of Branson or the natural aptitude associated with Andrew Strauss – but the best managers and leaders are those who work hard to acquire new skills and adapt to new situations throughout their careers. 
"The best managers and leaders are those who work hard to acquire new skills and adapt to new situations throughout their careers."

It's a message that the HR community has understood for a long time and now is the right time to ensure the business community accepts this message too. Of course we need strong leaders to drive the UK's economic recovery forward, but employers also have to realise that leadership is about taking a long-term view. If just 7% think that they are born to lead, the next logical step must be to appreciate that good leadership cannot be developed overnight.

The right training opportunities

The characteristics of a good leader, such as decision making and the ability to communicate an organisation's vision, certainly take time to acquire but, with the right training opportunities, the skills that make a great leader can absolutely be learnt. At present, however, it would seem that too many UK managers are falling below par, suggesting the management community isn't taking the time to continually develop skills in what is a constantly evolving business environment.

Recent CMI research found that more than half of the UK workforce thinks the dominant management style within their organisation is negative; the three most common management traits are authoritarian, bureaucratic and secretive. In light of this, managers need to carefully consider their leadership style and its impact on others. From an HR perspective, this means ensuring that the leaders at the top of your business must take a step back and develop their own skills.
It can seem a daunting prospect to ask an individual to analyse their own weaknesses as well as strengths, but a manager's management style can make or break both their own career and their company's prospects. There is no excuse for managers who fail to take personal development seriously. Just as importantly, there is no excuse for the HR community to fail to address this issue with their business leaders. Considering the current economic climate, a manager committed to improving their skills base is not only critical to success but a prerequisite for survival. Good leaders are passionate about learning new skills and will focus on their personal development in order to improve business performance and engagement. Good HR practitioners will be the ones who ensure business leaders take note.

Ruth Spellman is chief executive of the Chartered Management Institute, the only chartered professional body that is dedicated to management and leadership and committed to raising the performance of business by championing management. For more information, please visit

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