Leaders mould their natural advantage

THE debate continues to rage over whether leaders are born or whether they can be made.

Most training experts believe it is a combination of the two.

People may be born with the innate characteristics of leadership, such as charisma, but they may need training to develop some of the skills associated with it or the attitude needed to be a good leader.

Most universities now hold courses revolving around leadership or at least include leadership in some of their business courses.

Australia’s defence forces also have their own leadership development programs.

One thing the experts agree on is that, while a person can be given the necessary skills, they have to have the drive within them to become a leader.

Curtin University master of leadership and management director Marita Naude said there was some truth to the saying that good leaders were born.

“Some people say you need to be born with the leadership characteristics such as charisma and then get training to better utilise them,” she said.

“But there are other factors at work. Are they in a position where there are good followers?

“I don’t think a good leader can make anyone follow him or her unless they want to.

“But a good leader can help motivate people to follow them.”

Associate Professor Naude said universities could teach people how to communicate better, which was a key to helping to motivate people.

“We believe we can teach leadership or at least the skills to maximise its effect,” she said.

Royal Australian Navy training systems specialist Tim Kenny said the navy and the defence force in general took a situational approach to leadership training.

“In the RAN we believe leadership can be made for certain situations,” he said.

“We have training to help people lead appropriately in certain circumstances.

Lieutenant Commander Kenny said this did not mean an anarchic swapping of roles between personnel in different situations, but more a changing of leadership style.

“If you have to give an order to fire in a combat situation, it will be different to counselling sub-ordinates in quieter times,” he said.

“Certainly our best leaders have been those who can bend with the times.”

Lieutenant Commander Kenny said he believed people could be trained to be leaders.

“In a particular sense, because we place a lot of resources into leadership and management training then the obvious answer is yes,” he said.

“But there are probably some characteristics that show that people are better suited to leadership.”

People Innovations executive director Tim Ford said he agreed with the approach of different leadership styles for different situations.

“It’s like golf,” he said.

“Where your ball is dictates what club you are going to use.

“By the same token, if the building is on fire you are not going to call a meeting to discuss what you should do.”

Mr Ford said he also believed leaders could be made, although the person had to be prepared to take on the leadership role.

“They have to want to do it [lead] and they have to be able to make accurate assessments of themselves,” he said.

“It comes down to emotional competency. A big help for leaders is to be humble enough to understand other people’s points of view.

“You have to reprogram within the person’s brain the way they interact with other people. The have to be able to put themselves into positions where they have the confidence of the people they are leading.”

The Catalyst Group director Digby Scott said he believed people could be taught the leadership skills but needed to be helped to find the “will” to lead.

“Leaders need both the skills and the ‘attitude’ to lead well,” he said.

“Part of the leadership development process is about developing them as a person.

“But people also have to want to be leaders.”

Mr Scott said a coach’s role was to work on the attitude side of the person.

“It’s about developing them as a person,” he said.

“You need to know who you are.

“I think [Australian Defence Force chief] Peter Cosgrove has a real sense about who he is as a person.

“I think what makes him such a good leader is that he has the skills of a leader but has also spent a lot of time on the internal stuff.

“He’s one of the people who walks his own talk.”

p          Next week: Removing glass


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