The raw material for your future leaders. All have the talent to lead, if you help them!
image source: pefnc.org
We don’t spend a lot of time worrying about whether “leadership skill” is driven by naturally acquired abilities (genetics), or by nurture (through parents, peers, bosses, etc.) Our job is to focus on making the “nurture” that organizations do to develop leaders more effective.
We find support for our “get on with it” mindset in the research confirming that nurturing done by organizations through employee and leadership training is effective and worth the investment.
You Can Develop Great Leaders In-House
An article we recently came across by Daniel E. Maltby, Ph.D of Biola University carried the title Leaders: Born or Made? Dr. Maltby made some great points. Here is the best quote:
“But the majority of researchers today believe that the origins of leadership go beyond genes and family to other sources. Work experiences, hardship, opportunity, education, role models and mentors all go together to craft a leader. An important assumption in this theory is that the raw material essential in people in order to lead is not scarce. The lack of needed leaders is a reflection of neglected development, rather than a dearth of abilities.”
We agree that the raw material from which transformational leaders can be made is not scarce. We steadfastly believe that anyone can lead. As the author notes, people can have help early in life that fosters confidence, and personality can play a role in encouraging some people to more actively assume leadership roles at a young age and get a head start at learning by doing.
Borrowing from Malcolm Gladwell, it could also simply be caused by being among the oldest members of a school cohort, which can confer confidence just because a child may be physically and mentally more advanced than her or his classmates.
Regardless, all organizations can nurture leaders whether or not they benefited from genetics (personality) or circumstance (great parents, schools, and age relative to peers).
Here are options for creating a culture committed to transformational leadership development:
Educate all employees on the power of transformation. Let them know that they can acquire leadership skills that can bring them even with those who seem inherently to already them. Dr. Maltby borrowed a nice list from the work of John Kotter about how organizations can better foster leadership growth. We borrow it here, in turn:
- Challenging assignments early in a career
- Visible leadership role models who were either very good or very bad
- Assignments that broadened knowledge and experience
- Task force assignments
- Mentoring or coaching from senior executives
- Attendance at meetings outside a person’s core responsibility
- Special development jobs (including rotational assignments)
- Special projects
- Formal training programs
The key to all this is to organize these opportunities into a coherent program of development rather than allowing a person’s leadership development to proceed haphazardly. Call it an Intra-MBA Course, if you want, but put some structure to it. That allows the employee to strive for something concrete, and also lets the senior executives participate in an organized, predictable way that keeps everyone engaged in the process.
This is critical: The program should be open to anyone who wishes to commit to acquiring transformational leadership skills, not just pre-determined ‘high potential employees.’ You cannot predict who will transform themselves into great leaders ahead of time, so don’t do it! In our experience, pre-selecting candidates ensures you will miss a number of ‘diamonds in the rough.”
How does your leadership development program compare to these ideas? Is it organized? Are senior executives deeply involved? Does it truly foster personal leadership traits?