Arguments still rage among business researchers about whether leadership skill is driven more by naturally acquired abilities (genetics), or through the nurture of parents, peers, bosses, training, and so forth.
My own experiences in training leaders tell me that some folks do get a head start because of their naturally outgoing behavior style, but that this "genetic" lead evaporates pretty quickly once real performance becomes the measuring stick.
Plus, as an organizational leader who needs to foster leadership skills in your employees, you can't do anything about genetics. You can, however, effectively nurture raw talent to create transformational leaders. Your focus must stay on making the "nurture" that you do to develop your employees more effective.
You might call this a "get on with it" leadership development mindset!
You Can Develop Great Leaders In-House
An article we recently came across by Daniel E. Maltby, Ph.D of Biola University carried the title Leaders: Born or Made? Dr. Maltby supports our "get on with it" position. Here is the best quote:
"But the majority of researchers today believe that the origins of leadership go beyond genes and family to other sources. Work experiences, hardship, opportunity, education, role models and mentors all go together to craft a leader. An important assumption in this theory is that the raw material essential in people in order to lead is not scarce. The lack of needed leaders is a reflection of neglected development, rather than a dearth of abilities. "
The raw material from which transformational leaders can be made is not scarce! Leadership ability is not a rare, precious commodity: We steadfastly believe that anyone can lead. As the author notes, people can have help early in life that fosters confidence, and personality can play a role in encouraging some people to more actively assume leadership roles at a young age and get a head start at learning by doing. But that lead is not insurmountable.
All organizations can nuture leaders whether or not they benefited from genetics (personality) or circumstance (great parents, schools, and age relative to peers).
Here are options for creating a culture committed to transformational leadership development:
Educate all employees on the power of transformation. Let them know that they can acquire leadership skills that can bring them even with those who seem inherently to already them. Here is an initial list of ideas for creating a leadership development program, based on work done by John Kotter, and updated by me to reflect what I have seen work well:
- Challenging assignments, preferably chosen by the employee with your guidance, that add knowledge and experience.
- Cross-functional task force assignments
- Access to senior executives, especially those exhibiting the "get on with it" mindset.
- Mentoring or coaching from senior executives
- Attendance at higher-level meetings
- Special development jobs (including rotational assignments)
- Special projects they can lead
- Formal training programs
The key to all this is to organize these opportunities into a coherent program of development. Do not allow a person's leadership development to proceed haphazardly. Design it is an Intra-company MBA course, if you want, but put some structure to it. This gives the employee something concrete to strive for, and also lets the senior executives participate in an organized, predictable way that keeps everyone engaged in the process.
Critically, the program must be open to anyone who wishes to commit to acquiring transformational leadership skills, not just pre-determined 'high potential employees.' You cannot predict who will transform themselves into great leaders ahead of time, so don't do it! Pre-selecting candidates ensures you will miss a number of 'diamonds in the rough. "
The bottom line is that nurturing leadership skills through employee and leadership training is effective at raising productivity and innovation, and is worth the investment.
How does your leadership development program compare to these ideas? Is it organized? Are senior executives deeply involved? Does it truly foster personal leadership traits?
To view the article by Dr. Kevin Maltby, click here .
To read a bit more about my "anyone can lead" philosophy, click here .