This is a companion to my previous blog, Describe a Great Leader. It is my experience that leaders do not arrive fully developed, even people we might think of as “natural leaders” are still somewhat grown.
In my professional career, I have had the good fortune to witness, and at times, participate in the evolution of some very good young leaders.
These folks are generally easy to spot, although not everyone sees himself or herself as a supervisor or manager. They see leadership as a position, not the role.
Not everyone, who rises to the top of their profession or job family, will be or should be a supervisor or manager. Yet, they may lead others with their experience and knowledge.
Leadership is more than being an expert in something. As I have said before, technical expertise is not the same as leadership skill, nor is it a substitute. Many of the best leaders are technically or professionally competent in their subject matter, but have vision and emotional intelligence skills that provide them critical competencies in leading others or in the process of problem-solving. I have seen many superstar engineers, accountants, mechanics, system architects and other highly successful professionals who struggled and often failed in leadership positions. They lacked the people skills and interpersonal competencies that are essential to leadership.
Those who have the ability to lead may already be doing it. Watch them. They seek to learn, and freely share their knowledge and skills. These folks may not see themselves as leaders, in part because it may come naturally to them. Others may lead in quiet ways that tend to fly under the radar, their “leadership talents” may need nurturing and enhancement through mentoring or classes.
That brings up the argument of whether leaders are born or made. My answer is both. The journey to being a leader takes many different paths. Some possess innate abilities that seem natural. Others develop, taking a different journey and may bring other insights to leading. This does not imply that anyone can lead, although most people serve as informal leaders often without knowing it. Leading others in an organization does take special skills and abilities. Bringing those strengths to the surface and enhancing them is what leaders do for emerging leaders.
So, how do we enhance those strengths? Education is usually key, whether it is formal education, technical training, leadership programs or attending seminars. Another tool is involvement in professional organizations where the employee gains experience on a committee, leading a program or shouldering organizational or member responsibility. Employees learn to stretch and function beyond their normal skill set. Work-based learning opportunities include taking on a different responsibility, leading a team or serving on an organization-wide committee. These experiences challenge the employee with planning and facilitating work or events, building consensus, training less experienced colleagues and delivering a work product to a leadership team. Those who want to lead will seize these opportunities.
Leaders are engaged, they are humble and are open to criticism, there is passion in their work, and they elevate others. Leaders also think at a higher level and are able to identify different opinions, obstacles and opportunities. Emerging leaders already do many of these things, as colleagues and teammates, and may not recognize it as leading, they are doing what feels natural.
Every organization has a set of values, hopefully written down, that define their culture and foundational principles. The values should drive the organization, and the leaders at all levels should mirror and reinforce them.
Every organization should be identifying and growing new leaders. If they do not, talented people will move on and find growth opportunities elsewhere.