Leadership Development 101 | Qualities of a Leader

Are leaders born or made? It’s a question I get asked all the time in my work. I’m guessing it’s a thought that has crossed your mind as well.

In response, I love to quote James Kouzes and Barry Posner, creators of the Leadership Challenge, the world-renowned leadership development program I use with my clients.

Kouzes and Posner are fond of saying, “We’ve never met a leader who wasn’t born!” This might seem to confirm an insidious myth in our technologically advanced world that leadership—and many other talents, for that matter—are reserved for only a lucky few.

Don’t you throw your hands up in despair, however, thinking you didn’t win the leadership lottery. They continue: “We’ve also never met an accountant, artist, athlete, engineer, lawyer, physician, writer, or zoologist who wasn’t born. We’re all born. That’s a given. It’s what you do with what you have before you die that makes the difference.”

Leaders are made.

18593405 - learn and leadHaving worked with hundreds of organizations and thousands of leaders, I echo their belief that leadership is not preordained. It is not a gene, and it is not a personality trait. There is no hard evidence to support the assertion that leadership is imprinted in the DNA of only some individuals and the rest of us missed out and are doomed to eternal cluelessness.

In short, leadership is set of skills and abilities that can be learned by almost anyone who has the desire and commitment to improve. The proof? For 25 years, Kouzes and Posner have backed up this principle in their research-driven, evidence-based leadership development model.

Leadership requires practice.

Like all skills worth having, leadership must be practiced. But what are the specific skills?

Kouzes and Posner have developed “Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership,” which grew from their intensive research project to determine the leadership competencies essential to achieving extraordinary results in organizations. The study found that when leaders are at their personal best they regularly engage in and practice the following five behaviors:

Qualities of an effective leader:

1. They model the way. Leaders clarify their values by finding their voices and affirming shared ideals, and they set the example by aligning their actions with these shared values. In short, they do what they say they are going to do.

2. They inspire a shared vision. Leaders envision the future by imagining exciting and ennobling possibilities, and they enlist others in a common vision by appealing to the shared aspirations of everyone involved.

3. They challenge the process. Leaders search for opportunities by seizing the initiative and looking for innovative ways to improve, and they experiment and take risks by constantly generating small wins and learning from their mistakes.

4. They enable others to act. Leaders foster collaboration by building trust and facilitating relationships, and they strengthen others by increasing their self-determination and developing their competencies.

5. They encourage the heart. Leaders recognize the contributions of others by showing appreciation for individual excellence, and they celebrate values and victories by creating a spirit of community.

The principles behind the practice

Practice is essential, of course, but it’s also important to understand why you’re practicing these specific skills. The Leadership Practices Inventory is the assessment tool that serves as the foundation for the Leadership Challenge program. It was developed to help leaders assess the extent to which they actually use the practices so that they can make plans for improvement that leads to self-development—because leadership development is first and foremost self-development.

In addition to this bedrock notion of self-development, the program is based on these six core principles:

1. Leadership is everyone’s business.

2. Leadership is a relationship.

3. The best leaders are the best learners.

4. It take practice—deliberate practice—to become a better leader.

5. Leadership is an aspiration and a choice.

6. Leaders make a difference.

And, of course, making a difference is ultimately what leadership is all about.

In the next blog post, I’ll discuss the fundamentals of executive coaching and how coaching is both similar and different from leadership development. In the meantime, please let me know your thoughts or questions about organizational alignment and related issues your organizations is facing. You can email me at paul.smaby@integraladvisors.com  (612) 600-6261; I look forward to hearing from you.

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