There’s been a lot of chatter lately about the importance of strong leaders to the success of business.
Every day another article seems to be published with an example of how a business has successfully developed strong leaders who have made a massive impact to their strategic direction, company culture and bottom line. There’s no doubt that identifying and developing strong leaders should be a huge priority for every business.
So, what is a real ‘leader’ and can you teach someone to become a good one?
Leadership is different to management.
First, it’s important to clear up a common confusion: ‘leadership’ is quite different from ‘management’.
Good management brings about order and consistency by drawing up formal plans, designing organisation structures and monitoring results against the plans.
Good leadership is about coping with change. Leaders establish direction by developing a vision of the future; they align people by communicating the vision and inspiring them to overcome hurdles.
Management positions come with some degree of formally designated authority. A manager may assume a leadership role simply because of the position he/she holds. But just because an organisation provides its managers with certain formal rights is no assurance that they will be able to lead effectively. In fact, non-sanctioned leadership is often more important than formal influence. In other words, leaders can emerge from within a group as well as by formal appointment to lead a group.
There are different styles of good leadership.
Styles of leadership and their effectiveness have been widely studied. Some of the more common types are employee-oriented, production-oriented and development-oriented leaders.
An employee-orientated leader emphasises interpersonal relations, taking a personal interest in the needs of employees and accepting individual differences among them.
A production-orientated leader emphasises technical or task aspects of the job.
A development-oriented leader values experimentation, seeks new ideas and generates and implements change.
All these leadership styles have merit and will have varying degrees of success, depending on the culture of your business and its particular challenges and opportunities.
Good leaders tend to have similar personality traits.
Different leaders may have different styles, but they tend to have some key personality traits in common; namely extroversion, conscientiousness, openness to experience, agreeableness and emotional stability.
Recent studies have shown that emotional intelligence (EI) is another very important characteristic common to effective leaders. Emotional intelligence focuses on a person’s capability to effectively manage their own and others’ emotions.
People with high EI tend to be more transformational in their leadership style, have better negotiation skills, higher stress tolerance and less absenteeism. Business leaders who are better able to understand and control their emotions are likely to achieve greater workplace performance, results and success – positive effects that will impact on their business, their lives and the lives of those that work within the business.
Unlike personality and IQ, which are generally regarded as fixed throughout a person’s life, emotional intelligence can be learned and developed.
So we have a pretty clear idea of what makes an effective leader. Identifying people within your business who have the potential to develop into strong leaders, however, isn’t always easy.
Formal leadership training - done right - has big benefits.
Organisations spend billions of dollars on leadership training every year. They send managers to a wide range of leadership training activities, including formal MBA programmes, leadership seminars, and weekend retreats. They appoint mentors and ‘fast-track’ high-potential individuals.
But before sending an employee on any type of leadership training, it’s critically important you ensure they have the potential leadership style and personality traits that align with the type of leadership needed for your business.
There are a number of tools that can be used to identify these key leadership traits and styles (and the employees that demonstrate them), such as 360 degree feedback questionnaires.
Provided the right people are identified, the benefits to good formal leadership training are clear:
- Improved productivity and performance
- Increased interpersonal effectiveness
- Increase job satisfaction and tenure
- Greater leadership capability
- Better business performance
To make sure your training dollar is well spent, you must choose your training provider carefully. Things to consider: Will they help you to determine the right leadership styles and personality traits for your business, and identify the employees who demonstrate them? Do they adapt their training methods based on the type of leadership style you’ve identified as important for your business? Do they come highly recommended, with credible references you can check?
Remember that while it might be relatively easy to teach individuals ‘about’ leadership, it's something quite different to teach people ‘how’ to actually lead. Even if you have a (rare) perfect match between an employee’s leadership style and personality traits, and those you’ve identified as right for your business; it’s nearly impossible for any normal human being to assimilate all the learning and be capable of enacting the right behaviours in every situation.
But while the outcome may not produce ‘perfect leaders’, it most definitely will produce ‘better leaders’. And that’s a far smarter approach for your business than leaving it entirely up to chance.