Leadership is about skill, not talent

How did your boss get to be a great boss?

While some believe that leaders are “born, not made,” research shows that great leaders are, in fact, made. They gradually acquire effective leadership competencies throughout their careers through experience, training, mentoring and typically a lot of hard work.

Perhaps as important are the natural gifts, talents and traits that help a potential leader realize his or her leadership potential. Personal traits like integrity and character are more on the born, not made, side, as well as drive and cognitive/problem-solving ability. However, without experience, training and mentoring, personal traits are not enough. No one is born with a natural ability to effectively lead. Traits like business acumen, coaching/mentoring skills, persuasiveness and emotional intelligence are learned and developed, often over a lifetime.

So how did your great boss develop leadership competencies? Here are a few of the common characteristics we find in most successful leaders today.

They had great leadership role models. Most great bosses identified someone along the way whose skills and behaviors they wanted to emulate. They found or made opportunities to learn and grow from them, even changing jobs so they could work with a great boss (or leave a bad boss). These “great bosses” helped them see their potential greatness. They cared about and supported their development, providing focus, challenge and reinforcement.

They took on new and challenging job assignments. Research on thousands of top executives (by the Center for Creative Leadership) directly links leadership success to learning from critical on-the-job experiences. Most of us learn best by experience, rather than simply reading or hearing it taught in a course.

They learned from critical hardships and events. Experiences like turning around an organization in trouble or starting a new project, product or team from scratch are often instrumental in leadership development. Most successful leaders will tell you they learned the most from their greatest mistakes. Effective leaders set an expectation that mistakes will happen; what is important is how mistakes are resolved and what we can learn from them.

They are adaptable. Great bosses aren’t rigid. They got to be “great bosses” by being self-aware, reflecting on behavioral choices, learning from mistakes and modifying behaviors to positively impact relationships and organizational performance.

They encouraged feedback. The best bosses continually seek feedback and develop systems to make it safe for people to give it to them. When told what they are (or are not) doing well, they genuinely reflect and, as required, make behavioral changes.

They understand the value of continual learning. John F. Kennedy said, “Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.” To climb the corporate ladder in today’s dynamic workplace requires a commitment to continual learning. Great bosses actively encourage ongoing training and education in their organization and for themselves. They participate in and support higher education as well as recognize the value in specialized training in the “soft” leadership skills (i.e., personnel management, facilitation, conflict resolution and team leadership skills). They utilize the various tools and applicable theories and behaviors that translate to more effective leadership.

They have stayed connected — to themselves and to those they lead. Great leaders can stay connected to others even in conflict or difference (i.e., they have high emotional intelligence). They are authentic, true to themselves and models for what they believe in (and ask for from others). They are clear about their core values, avoid pretense and own their truth without blaming.

They have developed personal authority and integrity. These are the leaders that you will “go to the line” for without hesitation. For those of us lucky to have worked with one of them, we understand the value of their leadership is immeasurable.

The greatest waste of all is not to realize your full potential.

What to do?

  • Invest by hiring a coach (I can help!).
  • Expand your horizons (go back to school, go to a training or seminar).
  • Take on a new job assignment.
  • Ask your management, “What can I do?” as a step toward being the next great leader.

Leadership development is a continuous process, not a one-time event. It’s a lifelong journey.

Invest in yourself by hiring me as your coach! I can help you learn, develop and grow your leadership and coaching abilities.  I coach leaders all over the world via Skype.  Call me:  360 682 5807 or email: mmoriarty@pathtochange.com