I worked with a group of bright, young leaders representing high schools from three different communities this morning and was shocked at their perceptions of leadership. Most see leadership as something involving the need to tell people what they need to do and how to do it, and leaders as the people who are equipped to “get things done”.
As we stood in a circle I asked, based on their experience, what happens first when a group first recognizes the task at hand. The first response was, “Someone speaks up with an idea.” The group also conceded to my suggestion that often that same person makes an aggressive move to the middle, collapsing the circle while making a “power move” toward half the group and turning his or her back to the rest. Thus, those with the natural tendency to be loud, agressively take charge, act impulsively and isolate team members tend to be seen as leaders.
I am not sure where young people are learning such things. Good leadership is generally becoming understood to be less about “command-and-control” and “natural-born ability”, which once dominated the organizational landscape, and more about something else. That “something else” can be a moving target at times since there are those who still harbor the ideal of the Born Leader as opposed to the potential for the Developed Leader that exists in everyone.
Many people in modern society, but not everyone, believe in the need for leadership development (at least for others if not for themselves!). In other words, people from both schools of thought recognize the need for leadership ability. The differences between the Born Leader and Developed Leader camps are rooted in the beliefs about who is most capable of benefiting from leadership development and what development should entail.
The Born Leader folks tend to believe that some people have the precious few inherent traits that make leadership a destiny and that some new skills will enhance the impact of those traits. The Developed Leader folks tend to believe all people have inherent strengths AND the potential for leadership, therefore, anyone can reach the heights of leadership.
At Performance Development Network we operate on the premise that each of us has potential for leadership that can best be leveraged by developing our existing strengths, recognizing that many of those existing traits are also the product of both “nurture and nature”. Therefore, neither celebrating or mourning natural traits is worthy of much attention as is the need to nurture one’s attitudes, abilities and interests.
We also acknowledge that effective leadership has much to do with individual potential for “rising” to opportunity, context or circumstance. The most effective leaders do not just react to circumstance or wait for opportunity to define them as leaders. Instead, good leaders define themselves in a way that prepares them to respond accordingly to most any circumstance or opportunity as they appear.
We all have the potential for leadership and, therefore, need leadership development. It is our responsibility as leaders to cultivate a climate for leadership, where everyone has a role and the ongoing opportunity to develop and practice as a leader.
More tomorrow… If your organization or team needs assistance in developing leadership or a more powerful leadership culture, call Mark Sturgell at 217-362-0500 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.