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Leaders – Born or Bred?


Terry Russell, partner of Intouch Management Consulting LLP argues that with enough will, training and practice anyone can become a leader.

So much has been written about leadership in businesses. Some theories suggest that a leader stands alone like a superman or superwoman and creates their own heroic visions.

Other theories believe in distributive leadership, claiming that it is simply not good enough to go it alone, modern leaders must include their teams when making important decisions.

Look around your workplace, people want certainty and a sense of security, a sense of comfort and a sense of direction.

Leaders can provide all that and much more. Leaders make things happen; they are the agents of change.

Leadership theories
Many theories attempt to explain what makes a good leader.

Trait theories are based upon the view that personal characteristics create leaders.

This view is immediately supported when we think of great leaders like Churchill, Ghandi, Thatcher and Martin Luther King - all different but leaders none the less. Full of charisma, these people certainly reinforce the "leader as superman" thinking among many people.

But compared to leaders like these, what possible chance do mere mortals have?

Well, good news can be found in style theories.

These suggest that all you have to do is act in a certain way in a given situation. One moment you can be authoritarian, in another, democratic.

One situation will require you to be supportive, and in another you must be a coach. But how to know exactly when to apply each style?

There are also the contingency theories, which take account of other variables in leadership situations, for example, the task and the people concerned, whether individuals or teams, your own position, the position of the leader and what power, influence, or control you hold.

Theory in practice
Experience of working with leadership training in the corporate sector has brought us to the conclusion that theories and management models are like the points on a compass; a useful point of reference.

They can guide us and let us know where we are on our journey, but they do not in themselves take us to our destination. The models alone do not provide the answer.

Learning leadership skills
There is no doubt that some people are more naturally talented in some areas than others.

For example, Georgia, my nine-year-old daughter, was born able to sing beautifully. Her younger brother Joe can’t hit a note to save his life. But could he learn?

With desire, proper coaching, input on technique, support to build his confidence and a good deal of practice, the answer is yes. And the same is true of leaders.

There is ample evidence that things many of us consider to be natural talent are in fact learned skills.

Vision and Coaching
Our research and experience have led us to believe that there are clear patterns in the attributes leaders demonstrate and in the things they do.

One of the keys to their success is that they follow these patterns consistently and constantly.

We would agree with Professor John West-Burnham, Director of Professional Research and Development at the London Leadership Centre when he said that the two most important competencies that leaders demonstrate are vision and coaching.

Having a clear direction in which to lead a business is a vital element in leadership.

However, it doesn’t have to be one person’s vision; it can be created through consultation, which is the very essence of collaborative leadership.

Once formed, the vision should be communicated with energy, passion and most importantly of all, clarity.

The vision must be believed in, it must be demonstrated by the actions of the leader and there must be no deviation.

Coaching is the second key to good leadership in business.

We believe that coaching sits at the very heart of being able to create sustainable change in business – so called transformational leadership.

Coaching is about the development of the individual, the team and the company as a whole.

Star Leaders
This approach actually starts to deny the idea of "star leaders" as people who have all the answers.

It suggests leadership is about asking questions and listening to the answers.

It is also about creating change through action. It is about understanding yourself as well as others.

Throw away those ideas of larger than life, heroic leaders, no Alexander the Great needed here. Leaders don’t need to have all the answers; they just need to start asking questions and listening to what people say.

The very best leaders know that the answer is out there, probably with someone else.


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