The term ‘natural born leader’ is often used to describe some charismatic leader who seems to be natural at leadership. However, are people really born with leadership qualities?
Learning Leadership (2016) by James Kouzes and Barry Posner sheds light on how leadership is learned. While people might possess the inherent ability to lead, it is a quality that needs to be learned, nurtured, and nourished over time. As it says in the book’s introduction, “Learning Leadership is a clarion call to unleash the leadership potential that is already present in today’s society.”
Leadership is a continuous learning process and in order to excel at it, one must know, master, and apply the five fundamentals of leadership that are essential tools for great leadership.
Fundamental No.1 – Never Stop Learning
Leaders do not necessarily have inherent, gifted, leadership qualities. Anyone aspiring to be a leader can work towards building leadership skills. All one needs is the willingness to learn, hone, and practice building leadership skills to be a great leader.
If we look deep within ourselves, we will find that we have – at some point in our lives – displayed excellent leadership qualities without knowing it. These will give us the answer to what kind of challenges brought out leadership skills in us.
You can employ an easy self-coaching exercise to develop the focus on bringing out leadership qualities. On a paper, write down four questions –
- Who am I?
- What do I do?
- How do I make a difference?
- What will I do today that really matters?
The answers to these questions help in getting the focus back on one’s goal for today, and goal for the future. Moreover, these answers work as motivation to strive in the wake of a block.
Another important factor that determines leadership is the willingness to learn. Acquiring new knowledge and the thirst for constantly learning through one’s career graph help great leaders keep up with the times. A valuable leader constantly learns, reinventing, and up-skilling himself.
Fundamental No.2 – Focus On The Future
Great leaders focus on the future. They keep track of necessary changes around them in the present to be able to make sound decisions for the future. They are able to evaluate how today’s events will affect tomorrow. Developing this foresight helps them plan better, as well as understand what resources will they need to have and how to plan to get these resources for themselves as well as their team members.
Another important aspect of quality leadership is the focus on others. Good leaders always put others before themselves. They see their success as a direct result of the success of their subordinates and strive hard to ensure that their team succeeds first. They ensure that the team works cohesively towards a common set goal.
Leadership most importantly includes keeping a focus on the future with a heart that is set on helping others succeed. A great exercise is to answer the following questions –
- How will the world be after ten years?
- What will be the size of the team will I lead?
- What tools will they need?
- What skills will I need to effectively lead them?
Fundamental No.3 – Mistakes Are About Learning From Challenges
Life is all about making mistakes and learning from them. Similarly, life is also about taking up challenges and emerging successful – no matter how many tries it takes. Leadership also works on these principles.
Great leaders know that they have to take up challenges in their path. These challenges help in pushing them out of their comfort zones, make decisions to take measured risks, and put them out of their comfort zone. That is because being within one’s comfort zone for too long not only brings complacency but also stagnates.
Additionally, for great leaders, failure means getting closer – albeit inch-by-inch – towards success. Making mistakes and errors creates room for improvement and are seen as opportunities by leaders to achieve goals. For great leaders, the challenge of facing the unknown, and perseverance to right their mistakes is the distinguishing factor.
To develop the courage to overcome the fear of the unknown, this simple exercise helps. Complete the following sentence; “It took courage for me to…”
Fundamental No.4 – Importance Of Feedback
A leader can never exist in a vacuum. Neither is he a function of individual success. The people surrounding a leader, and the relationship the leader develops with them is what makes a leader a great leader.
Harvard psychology professor George Vaillant deduced that good relationship are vital for good health. The support of peers, colleagues, subordinates, and employees help in shaping a leader. This support comes when a leader takes the effort to develop and maintain good relationships.
That said, getting feedback from them is crucial as well. A good leader creates a safe environment for peers and subordinates to provide feedback. Moreover, a good leader should be receptive and use feedback to improve their own leadership skills.
An exercise to work on getting authentic feedback and implementing them is to take feedback from a trusted person after a meeting, understand the feedback, acknowledge it, and try to make changes based on that feedback.
Fundamental No.5 – Daily Practice Makes Learning Faster
Learning is lifelong process. And it is no different for leaders. The most important quality of good leadership is to keep on practicing.
Great leaders know and understand that at every stage in their lives, they will need to practice to enhance one skill or another, whether it is to do away with weakness or to brush up an existing leadership skill. They understand that practice to improve a skill takes time and patience. Moreover, they understand that practice is needed irrespective of the successes they have.
At times, the practice also needs a push from others. Mutually beneficial, leadership-development programs help to keep the focus on and they help leaders overcome any hurdles with the help of peers in the programs.
Learning is at the crux of being a great leader. To be a great leader, it is essential to think about the future today, accept challenges take risks, and learn from mistakes. One way to effectively learn is to be open to feedback and work to making the changes that are mentioned in the feedback. Finally, a leader should practice, practice, and practice!