I recall a friend of mine who was promoted to the lofty heights of Chief Executive in his company and he really looked forward to starting in the new post.
He was delighted to see his name on his office door and went in and sat behind the desk. Then reality kicked in. He looked around and thought to himself:
“What on earth do I do now? More to the point, what am I supposed to do?”
Of course he did the clever thing and called his PA and asked her. She was equally realistic and gave him a few ideas that got him up and running. Perhaps the best advice that she gave him was “Just go for a walk around the business
and make yourself known to everyone”.
A simple tale but it reminded me that there is very little if any formalised training for leadership, perhaps because the role is an intangible. Operational managers in functions such as finance, sales, marketing, operations, technical and so on have (or should have) clearly defined roles but the role of the overall leader is holistic.
There are perhaps two effective routes by which a leader can expand his/her knowledge; the MBA route and by being involved in a peer group.
The MBA route, by definition and because it emanates from an academic institution, tends to be both academic and theoretical. This is not to say that there isn’t great value in this experience but rather to understand that the basis is not angled towards the practical application of the theoretical.
On the other hand, the peer group, as in the Vistage example, is strictly practical, drawing as it does on the experience of other members of the group and helping the members come to decisions as to their objectives and the desired outcome. The ideal, of course, is a blend of the theoretical and the practical simply because the definition of the leader’s role demands both. Again, in the Vistage example, members hear the theoretical through high-end speakers as well as having the peer group experience.
Admire him or not, the election of President Donald Trump has elicited a kind description of his leadership style as “complex, charismatic and controversial”. It seems to me that this description encompasses the style of just about any leader of note who comes to mind.
Think about it; Churchill, Gandhi, Douglas MacArthur, Lord (Bernard) Montgomery, Steve Jobs, Jack Welch, Sir Alec Ferguson, Brian Clough and many others in many different fields of activity, all had that indefinable ability to lead and they were all complex, charismatic and controversial in their own way, and by the way, these are the benign examples.
The best people to tell you about the abilities of the leader are the followers; they are the ones who will go with the leader to the metaphorical ends of the earth simply because belief has been instilled in them; a belief in their own abilities and a belief in the leader and his/her objectives for them and for the business.
In the end developing leadership strengths is auto-didactic. It is a matter of learning from the experiences of great leaders, reading the right books, taking on board the theoretical and the academic and learning from the experiences of others in a similar position.
Above all, it demands dedication, commitment, resilience, enthusiasm, understanding and the humility to accept that the learning never stops.
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