How can you train to be a leader?
How do people become great leaders? Is it a natural gift, or something you can learn? And if you can learn it, why are there not more inspirational and successful leaders?
We accept that great leadership is key to long-term organisational success, but we can probably name only a few, even internationally. How come there seems to be such a shortage?
If asked, you could probably say what ‘leadership’ is. You could clearly describe how it feels to be well and poorly led – you ‘know it when you see it’. Why do so many people, knowing what good leadership is, fail to demonstrate it themselves?
Where’s the inspiration?
- Leadership training needs a better balance. There is not enough emphasis on the skills of inspiring others with beliefs, vision, values and attitude; and too much emphasis on the importance of systems, planning, measurement, budgets, controls and procedures – in short, on management! Does any great leader ever manage people into following him? No, he inspires them, motivates them, keeps them in touch with the bigger vision – leads them.
- As a business leader, you have probably been well trained in logic and analysis. But a key leadership skill is the application of ‘emotional intelligence’ – the ability to know when things are ‘true’ or when they are ‘off’, when people are truly inspired, or just paying lip service. As a leader you need emotional intelligence to manage your own and others’ emotions, and you need tools appropriate to this task. Trying to do it by analysis and logic is about as effective as trying to drive a car by studying from a manual how the engine works.
- People in the business world tend to avoid emotion – expressing it, dealing with it, looking at where it came from and exploring its role in a situation. The rationale is that all ‘this emotion stuff’ is ‘unprofessional’! Not so: it’s only ‘unprofessional’ to suppress emotion or express it inappropriately. When emotion is not explored and resolved in leadership groups, it always produces long-term tensions and political battles. These cause acute stress in individuals and cripple organisational effectiveness and efficiency. At the same time, they also destroy satisfaction, joy, fun, friendship, health, trust and a good night’s sleep!
- Leadership skills like vision, inspiration and emotional intelligence can be trained on training courses – but it takes a different kind of course. In most leadership training programmes you will see models of leadership discussed, followed by practical exercises that analyse logically what went right and wrong in a ‘leadership game’. It’s all familiar and fun, but what’s being taught are the elements that underpin leadership, not the essence of leadership.
Learning the leadership skills
You need to be coached in leadership skills, over time, in real situations – ones that matter to you and where there is a chance of meaningful success or failure – by coaches who themselves demonstrate the skills. A life skill like leadership can’t be learned by numbers; you can’t read a book about it, learn a model or play a game that simulates a real life situation, and say you know anything about leadership. The greater the ‘distance’ your learning experience is from your real world experience, the less likely it is that the learning will be transferred to your everyday performance. You didn’t learn to drive by sitting in a classroom!
So you can only effectively demonstrate the skills of leadership when the situation calling for them is real. Get a coach who has the experience to produce leadership competence, and put yourself in a programme where you are guided through real-time experience to learn leadership skills over time. Only this kind of approach will finally get you to the point where your leadership competence is as natural and instinctive as your driving ability!