Leadership is often depicted as a divinely inspired gift accessible only to those with a charismatic disposition, positional authority or specialist expertise – and preferably a combination of all three. For centuries, the widespread belief in most cultures has been that leaders are born, not made.
However, the prevailing view of those working at the intersection of leadership research and teaching is that leadership can be learned. The ‘leaders-are-born’ notion is largely regarded as a fiction and instead we find that most, rather than just the favoured few, can access leadership.
This is welcome news in a world characterised by unprecedented change, uncertainty and complexity, where there is an unremitting call for more, and better, leadership. The need is not just in business, but also in politics, education, public service, science, sport, the arts, the media, and the not-for- profit sector.
But leadership is very hard to do (at least consistently over time). If we are serious about wanting more and better leadership, then managers will need far more assistance and support to understand and develop a wider and more relevant range of leadership practices.
Many managers fail because they embrace leadership ‘talk’ but keep a management mindset. To succeed, an authentic leadership orientation must be chosen intentionally and repeatedly.
So what does real, or authentic, leadership look like, and how do you achieve it?
Authentic leadership requires far more than competency, as University of Auckland researchers Dr Lester Levy and Dr Brigid Caroll attested in their research challenging the competency paradigm in leadership development.1
Not only is leadership moving from the more familiar ‘hero-leader’ model to a more relational one; it is also moving to significantly higher standards of ethical practice and accountability. Leaders who practise this style of leadership are skilled in using ‘emotional intelligence’ as a professional influence tool.
Emotional intelligence is a critical skill for the future of work. Many believe that it is THE critical skill for successful leadership in our volatile, constantly changing world. The good news is that it is possible to develop a high degree of emotional intelligence by learning some tools and techniques, and consistently practising them over time.
So, instead of using the traditional ‘top-down’ management style, leaders can learn how to use emotional intelligence to inspire, engage and collaborate with their people.
A positive effect on performance can then be generated through having a shared mindset and aspirations, high levels of intrinsic motivation and an unshakable (ethically based) shared trust. Added bonuses include greater understanding of the big picture, better decision-making and healthier conflict resolution. Win-win!
1 The findings were published in a 2008 article in the journal Leadership. The article was re-published in 2011 as part of a Sage multivolume set titled Leadership, which focuses on the major works of leadership from 1947 – 2009.