16/06/2011 - 00:00

Learned or innate, leadership takes practice

16/06/2011 - 00:00

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Much has been written about leadership, yet it remains elusive to many in business.

Learned or innate, leadership takes practice

THE word ‘leadership’ is bandied around and it seems everywhere you turn, people want ‘leadership’.

People often ask if people are born leaders or whether they are made. As leadership is a skill that can be learned, leaders are, therefore, made. Perhaps a better question to ask is ‘what is leadership?’, ‘what makes a good leader?’ and ‘how can I learn to be a better leader?’

Leadership is present in many situations and people display leadership in the work environment, in community or sports, and although it is not always recognised there are signs of leadership everywhere.

For some, leadership is natural, they have the ability to take control and lead; for others it is a learned behaviour, but like any skill, natural or otherwise, it needs continual practice and refining, so even a born leader will plateau without continually refining his/her skills.

Here are the eight steps to becoming a leader; some of the traits you may already have and others you will need to develop.

Courage

Regardless of where or who they lead, leaders need courage. To have courage in leadership requires one to take a stand for what they believe to be right and just. Courage, of course, is not always popular and there is always the danger of being on the outer –typically in business where we are driven by results and bottom-line.

Yet being courageous also means being the first to initiate change. Having the courage to stand up for what you believe is true leadership.

Values

Great leadership and values are closely aligned. A good leader has clarity of their own values and what is important to them. Values are the rules that drive our decisions and ultimately our lives. Our values exist in the realm of having a hierarchy and although most are not aware of this hierarchy, it’s the hierarchy that puts a line in the sand. Some rules are not to be broken because these rules are part of what defines you as a person.

Passion

Leaders have passion; they are people who have strong belief and a desire that gives them a strong direction or pull towards their goal. Finding your passion gives purpose and that purpose then becomes the driving force.

A leader has to have a passion for people and a belief they he/she will be successful through people.

Charisma

Charismatic leaders are able to influence and engage others by evoking the emotions of those they lead and, in doing so, enabling followers to identify with the leader. Charismatic leaders are prepared to take risks, they are the ones who are able to put themselves on the line for what they believe and they are aware of and responsive to the needs of those who follow them.

Emotional intelligence is high on the agenda of a charismatic leader. Being aware of emotions enables the leader to have more empathy and build strong relationships with followers.

There is a downside to charisma, however. Leaders often think that a ‘celebrity’ status is a sign of a good leader; not so. Without checks and balances and a clear awareness of emotions, this leader runs the risk of abusing power to the detriment of the business and those who work there.

Rather than a celebrity status or ego, a true leader displays humility; humility in knowing that those who choose to follow them and indebtedness to those who help the leader humble them achieves their goals. By being humble you show a genuine interest in people and they in turn will listen to what you have to say.

Vision

A vision implies a picture. Understanding an abstract painting is not easy (not for me at least). The same could be said of a photo that has too much light or is blurry – it is difficult to see the full picture. How can you lead people if your vision is blurry? It is amazing how many businesses I come across that do not have a strategy or, if they do, that strategy is in someone’s head.

If the vision isn’t clear it cannot be communicated. If the vision is not clear it is like fighting your way through a fog, you hope that you will get through it and you know somewhere there is an end, the problem is you can’t see past your nose.

Athletes who are at the top of their sports have clear visions, they are able to visualise their course and know clearly the strategy, the twists and turns, they are aware of the their breathing and their heartbeat.

The clarity of a leader’s vision is similar to that of an athlete, the vision is lived and breathed. Once you live and breathe the vision it becomes a part of you and it is then shared; and by sharing it, it engages the help of others.

A leader without a clear vision is not a real leader, they are little more than a two-minute wonder.

Committment

If you want to be a leader you need to dream and dream big (leave the small dreams to others). Don’t be afraid to be bold, after all if you don’t do it someone else will. And don’t let yourself be satisfied with second place, go for gold.

SWOT analysis

Do a SWOT on yourself. What are your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats? While this tool is generally used for strategic planning, it is effectively your personal strategy plan – being a leader.

Start by listing all of your strengths. Think on this, because it is much easier for us to find our weaknesses than our strengths. You might engage the help of others to identify the full suite of your strengths. Acknowledge what you are good at and identify what weaknesses you need to focus on. The things that keep us from achieving our full potential are often our fears, doubts and anxieties; these are the demons that raise their ugly heads when there is a challenge.

Find a mentor

Find a mentor in someone who has achieved a high degree of success. Don’t be afraid to ask someone to mentor you, what have you got to lose by asking?

You will never know their response, so don’t anticipate it. Study the greats of leadership who you admire, learn from others and model others but at the same time remain authentic to yourself, don’t lose the core of who you are by trying to be someone else. Find the leader within you, it there just look.

• Anna Zammit is managing director of Xsell, which provides business development strategy through training and coaching to a range of businesses.

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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