How do you acquire that skill? In a way, going to school to learn leadership as though it were simply an intellectual skill such as mechanical engineering or marine biology seems absurd.
However, you can learn it. You aren’t born with it, but neither were Abraham Lincoln, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. or Meg Whitman.
The great leaders of the past learned it on their own, through experience. They drew lessons from their failures and successes, and kept moving forward.
so modern leaders now read and hear the stories in classes and online to absorb the messages.
What is Great Leadership
This is a topic of endless debate and discussion. The entry in Wikipedia lists large numbers of academic theories that make it sound less interesting than mechanical engineering. This MindTools article describes four leadership skills which I have condensed into 2 main points.
1. Leaders bring other people to their side. You’re not a leader by yourself, even if you’re a genius.
In 1847 Ignatz Semmelweis figured out how to dramatically reduce the occurrences of puerperal fever and thus the resulting deaths from childbirth. He simply had doctors wash their hands in a chlorinated solution of lime before attending to every childbirth. However, Semmelweis failed to convince doctors to make it a permanent policy. In his book Mastery, Robert Greene cites Semmelweis’s failure as evidence of his lack of social intelligence. Had he found a way to convince doctors to wash their hands, that would have saved the lives of many people. He was an effective scientist and doctor, but not an effective leader.
In effect, leaders are sales people. They “sell” their vision and goals to the members of their teams. One of the many skills you learn from leadership training is how to involve your team. You can’t just run your goals up the flagpole and expect your team to salute. You learn how to make them feel involved and empowered. Leadership is not bossing people around like a petty dictator. It’s obtaining their cooperation for common goals. Your learn how to listen, how to adjust to their ideas and their contributions. That way, everybody on the team accepts the goals and feels responsible for doing their part to achieve those goals.
Applying this skill is not automatic or easy. It requires communication skills such as active listening and building rapport. Because team members will have ideas that are not only different from yours, but from each other, achieving a unified effort also means negotiating with team members. Even when you are right, as Semmelweis was, getting others to accept that forces you to do what’s best for everyone without making other people wrong.
2. They recognize and adapt to change.
According to Wayne Gretzky, “A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be.”
Fortunately for Gretzky but unfortunately for 21st century business leaders, predicting the path of a hockey puck is a lot easier than predicting where economic conditions, evolving technologies and changing consumer desires is taking your company or organization.
“Innovation” is a prized skill and a current buzzword, but it’s not enough. A Kodak employee “innovated” back in 1975 when he invented a digital camera. But the company refused to market it because they didn’t want to give up the profits they made from selling film.
In the 21st century, with the pace of technological change accelerating, leaders need to spend more time than ever anticipating changes. How will AI affect your business? Robots? The gig economy? Big data? Remain alert to changes in consumer tastes so you quickly adapt to them. You need leadership training to future-proof your company.
That is why leadership training now includes learning how to use, not ignore, innovation. Companies that wish to remain on the leading edge must sometimes invest in technologies that might make their current product offerings obsolete. It’s better to disrupt your company yourself, before a competitor or start-up does it for you. Leadership training teaches you to get out of your comfort zone before you’re thrown out.
Learn From the Mistakes of Others
That’s the point of taking leadership training – To learn what you can in the safety of a real or virtual classroom. Then you spend the rest of your career continuing to learn more about leadership from applying those lessons. Leadership skills do not come from attending one week-long seminar, walking across a bed of coals, or receiving a gamification badge. If you are serious about acquiring leadership skills, start with a program that lays the foundation for lifelong education.
No training will supply you with vision, but it can help you understand the need for your personal mission. However, the interpersonal skills, or social intelligence or emotional intelligence required to connect with your team members are teachable and learnable: effective listening, practicing empathy to put yourself in the other person’s place to understand them and learning what motivates them.
There are many sources of Leadership training. The Training Industry website lists their top 20 leadership training company picks for 2016. The American Management Association offers a large number of valuable courses. Inc suggests 5 terrific TED talks on leadership. For personalized leadership and business strategy training, go to my coaching services web page.
The Everlasting Need for Leaders
Humanity has always had leaders. A million years ago, somebody had to decide every morning whether to hunt for game to the north or to the south of the cave. If they guessed wrong, everybody went hungry. Effective leaders have helped make their countries wealthy or saved them from disaster.
Today humanity needs great leaders more than ever, despite, or because of, the rise of Artificial Intelligence, robots and the Internet of Things. Your staff, customers and stakeholders need someone who understands and empathizes with them. The people in your company will always need to understand the goals you share if you expect to work together effectively to achieve those goals.
Leadership training helps you lead your team today, and far into the future.