One of the most fascinating discussions I can remember from business school was related to defining what true leadership is. Many times this centered around describing the traits that good leaders possess. Sometimes the debate was about what leadership is NOT. Case review after case review outlined how individuals reacted in times of crisis or financial difficulty. I have read numerous articles that discuss the traits that make up great leaders. One of my favorite articles by Daniel Goleman talks about how great leaders need to be dynamic to get results – that is, they must adapt to the environment and act (or react) accordingly. Sounds easy enough, right?
Goleman’s research tells us that these skills can be learned. However, based on my experiences, I find it somewhat difficult be aligned with this school of thought. I do know that there is plenty of research on this subject and I do believe that one can hone these leadership skills through study and practice. It is less scientific to be able to gauge when and where to use the skills, and to determine which set of skills is required when faced with an infinite amount of situations. I believe the only way that the application of these skills can be taught is through the “school of hard knocks” – good old fashioned experience. Live and learn.
Learning to apply the skill set of effective leaders is very important. However, I emphatically believe that leadership is an art and harnessing one’s skill set to be applied at the right moment with the right amount of persuasion captures the essence of true leadership. Leadership can be described as having the ability to influence the behavior of other individuals who possess the free will to choose their own course of action. Think about that. Take out the “free will” part and you have a dictator. Leaders get others to believe in them and their mission and their vision when it matters most and when there is an option not to follow.
I am proud to say that I come from a school of thought that believes that leadership (being an effective Leader), in its most elegant form, is a very difficult skill to impart onto others. Can I say that only true leaders are born? Probably too extreme to believe that. But the charisma, the art of persuasion, the ability and talent to use one’s skill set to be decisive in acting (or not acting) are not so easily picked up (and then applied) by even the most astute of students.
Let me know what you think. Look for my upcoming posts on what I think the most important leadership traits are. Thanks and keep living and leading!