Everything else is number two. ~ Bernd Brecher
I can’t tell you how often I’m asked, “Can you make a leader?” Usually this is expressed as a challenge, immediately followed by, “Aren’t leaders just born?”
Well, consider athletes. Do you think athletes can do their sport significantly better with practice, coaching, training, or proper feedback? Isn’t this as true for recreation league softball as it is for Olympic stars? We could apply this same line of reasoning to art, music, or any number of endeavors. What is worth noting about Michael Jordan, Mia Hamm, Tiger Woods, or Picasso is what they did to develop their inborn talent.
Yes, when it comes to leadership I believe there is inherent talent that plays a significant role. Nevertheless, whatever talent you start with, you CAN make a significant (big, huge, gigantic, life-changing, did I say significant) improvement in leadership. Like everything else, it takes the right effort, support, and tools. I don’t know whether you can make a leader, but I firmly believe you can indeed develop leadership.
Developing leadership requires experience leading. Being in a position to demonstrate leadership, however, does not guarantee development, i.e., continued learning that can be applied to future situations for competitive advantage. For development to occur, one must reflect on experience in a way that allows changes to be made as needed, and in addition, reinforces what is already working well. To reflect on experience you need the equivalent of a mirror.
Various leadership tools – 360° evaluations, assessment instruments, coaching, and others – can help provide that mirror so you can see yourself from a new perspective. This new perspective allows you to make adjustments to your thinking, attitudes, and behavior in ways that help you gain willing followers for a course of action – the very definition of leadership.
Below are a few tools that, if used well, can help you both assess and develop your leadership competencies while gaining the experience in leading your venture to success.
360° Evaluations – These products systematically collect leadership performance information from everyone around you. In many organizations this consists of people you report to, people who report to you, colleagues on the same level with you; and may also include customers, vendors, funders, or partners. Typically, the information is collected in survey form, although interviews can also be used. There are several 360° products available and some consultants can create custom surveys as well. If done right, 360° evaluations provide outstanding baseline data about perceived strengths and weaknesses.
Instruments and Assessments – Most people are familiar with these typically multiple choice questionnaires. Some of the more popular are the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), DISC, FIRO-B, and Change Style Indicator; although there are hundreds for all kinds of purposes. These can be very useful if used appropriately, but misleading to disastrous if poorly applied.
Coaching – A coach engages an individual or a team in a process that focuses efforts to reach objectives. Once considered mostly for ‘remedial’ issues with otherwise high-talent individuals, coaches are now generally accepted as important resources for leaders to stay on top of their game. If star athletes all have coaches, why not star business leaders? At this time there is no universally accepted credentialing of coaches, so it is wise to base your selection on relevant experience, track record, and personality match.
Executive Peer Groups – These provide a structure for executives or business owners from non-competing industries to form long-term advisory relationships. TEC is probably the most well known, but there are others, including groups sponsored by many Chambers of Commerce.
Leadership Training and Programs – There is a wide variety of specific training and development opportunities that can genuinely help develop leadership skills, but choose carefully to avoid wasting your time and money. If you have a specific need, find a workshop or simulation that gives you focused experience on that topic; for example, if you need help with presentation skills find a suitable workshop or join a Toastmaster’s group.
For general leadership development you can find any number of comprehensive leadership programs that last from a couple of days to several weeks or more. These programs are provided by independent leadership consultants, organizations such as the Center for Creative Leadership, and many colleges and universities; often through their MBA schools. Most include a combination of assessments (360° evaluations and/or other instruments), experiential learning or simulations, standard classroom learning with discussion and case studies, and sometimes coaching. Often the biggest question is the benefit trade-off about attending an open-enrollment program where you spend time with people from other companies, verses having an in-house program designed that focuses on learning from the specific experiences of your own company.
by Tom Stevens (c)2006
Tom Stevens helps individuals and organizations create brilliant futures and make a difference. To contact him, visit www.ThinkLeadershipIdeas.com
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