In my recent interview with Richard Rierson, host of the Dose of Leadership podcast, I made this statement:
Giving power to untrained managers is like giving them scalpels and telling them to do surgery. It’s risky.
Some people—okay, most people—are pitched into the leadership fray without really knowing what to expect or do. They were born with the potential to lead but have not yet learned the critical leadership principles needed to be successful. And unfortunately, most organizations don’t provide much help in the way of leadership training.
The three most exciting days in my life have been March 7, 1987, April 19, 1989 and September 1, 1994. On those dates my three children were born—and I was there, an eyewitness to the miracle of three human births.
I remember staring down at those little pink, wrinkled, newborn packages of undeveloped potential, trying to imagine their futures. Clairvoyant I wasn’t. But I believed then and now that their futures would be determined less by their DNA (looks, IQ, or personality) and more by the formative support and encouragement they would receive and the individual choices they would make.
I believe the same to be essentially true for leaders. Let’s face facts. All leaders are born—but none are born leaders. Leaders develop over time, in stages much like babies. They must learn to crawl before they stand; stand before they walk; and walk before they run.
The best leaders learn to lead through the support and focused encouragement provided by experienced leaders. As an experienced leader, we should embrace the opportunity and professional responsibility to live out the credo: Each one, teach one.
But like children, young leaders also learn by experimentation—trial and error—absorbing their fair share of bumps and bruises along the way. All leaders make mistakes. The best leaders look for the lessons in those mistakes, making adjustments for the future and maturing accordingly.
Every day a leader is born. It is our privilege to help guide that individual along his or her path to learning to lead.
Discussion: Are Leaders Born or Are Leaders Made?
Today marks the beginning of a weekly series of discussions on the 11 Ground Rules for Common Sense Leadership. I would like to hear your opinions and comments so I invite you to join the discussion.
Please comment here or if you prefer, join the discussion in our Leaders Ought to Know group on LinkedIn.
Linkedin Discussion: Are Leaders Born or Are Leaders Made?
Phillip Van Hooser
Leadership Expert, Keynote Speaker, Author – Leaders Ought to Know: 11 Ground Rules for Common Sense Leadership
It’s sad to say, but too many organizations around the world still don’t see the value of investing in the professional development of their most valuable resource—their people.
They ask short-sighted questions like, “Why would any organization invest resources, in times like these, developing leaders when there’s no guarantee that they’ll even stay with us?”
Or, how about this one: “What’s wrong with people today learning leadership the old-fashioned way, like I did — by the seat of the pants?”
Choosing to ignore the need for focused professional leadership development may appear to be an option for some organizations — just not the great ones. Companies like Proctor and Gamble, Nokia, Amway, Rockwell Collins, Capital One Financial and General Electric, to name a few, have long recognized the value — and profit — associated with developing leaders internally.
In an August 2010 article published in the Wall Street Journal, the author made the following points:
• Business layoffs and cutbacks in recent years have thinned the manager pipelines.
• Baby boomers who postponed retirement during the recession will soon start departing.
Too many organizations, for too long have turned a blind eye to the inevitable reality that their supervisors and managers were aging. Supervisors and managers you work with are beginning to vacate their leadership positions in droves. Unfortunately, too many organizations have done too little to address their succession planning needs in a practical way.
In other words, the need for more and better leaders is not just a future need — they are needed now.
An earlier article in FORTUNE magazine put it this way, “Your competition can copy every advantage you’ve got—except one. That’s why the best companies are realizing that no matter what business they’re in, the real business is building leaders.”
But, back to that earlier question: Why is leadership training even necessary?
First, there exists a dire need for more effective leaders in almost every business organization in the world. Second, employees and people of all kinds and cultures have a strong desire to follow — to be led. Finally, well trained leaders today can actually make a difference for the organizations they represent — a difference in profitability, a difference in productivity, a difference in on-time performance, a difference in employee engagement, even a difference in safety awareness.
These well trained leaders create a lasting difference by establishing a culture of leadership that is sure to permeate the organization and extend well beyond their time of individual service.
The success and viability of organizations in the future is quite literally being shaped today by the quality and capability of that organization’s leaders.
Not too long ago I was working on-site with a corporate client, conducting leadership training. An employee approached me and asked if we could talk. As soon as the conversation began, it became quite clear that the employee was terribly upset with his supervisor. For the next few minutes, he railed on about a mistake he believed his supervisor had made and how that perceived injustice was continuing to affect his performance in a negative way. He questioned how such a fundamental mistake, in his mind, at least, could have happened in the first place. Finally, in an exasperated tone, he ended his remarks to me with this statement:
“This person is in an important leadership position, and, well, leaders just ought to know better.”
“Leaders ought to know better.” Now there’s an interesting concept, I thought.
Let’s face the facts. Most of us were never formally trained to be a leader. Most of the managers and supervisors I know, initially earned their opportunity to be in a position of leadership because they were smart, hard working and really good at what they did before being promoted to a leadership position.
The engineer had a proven ability to analyze schematics in the search for inaccuracies, while the accountant was adept at interpreting the nuances of a balance sheet with relative ease. They were good at what they did because that’s what they had studied and trained to do. After years of hands-on experience their proven ability and performance had elevated them to a level of competence and visibility, thus earning them a positive reputation and recognition for the good they did.
Then one day their boss called this peak performer into her office and announced that she had good news. After much careful deliberation, it had been determined this person had earned the right to be promoted to the level of supervision or management. In other words, overnight this person was promoted to a position of leadership.
But, did that make them a leader? For far too many of us, that’s where the trouble begins.
The person was confident and capable in his or her ability read blueprints or to create an amazing spreadsheet, but far less sure about their ability to communicate group objectives effectively, to lead their new team through a process of consensual decision making or to successfully accomplish the dozens of other responsibilities expected of a leader daily.
This was all new territory. They hadn’t been trained for this. And add to the equation that from day one, the employees and individuals this newly minted leader had been tapped to lead were thinking, “Someone in an important leadership position like his or hers, well, they just ought to know better.”
That’s why we’re here – because there are some really important things that Leaders Ought To Know.
But we don’t want this to be a monologue on leadership – we consider it a conversation and we want you to join the exchange. Your insights will make the discussions more relevant and on point, so please share your questions, comments and perspectives at any time. Because Leaders Ought To Know…
Phillip Van Hooser
Founder & Concept Director