What makes great leaders?
Are great leaders born with leadership capabilities or is leadership learned? Great leaders are learners. They are always learning, studying to be better at what they do. So, yes people can learn to be great leaders.
Mary Ann Kmetyk, of Applied Performance Strategies, who appeared as one of my guests on AHA Business Podcast, introduced me to the book “The Leadership Challenge,” by John Kouzes and Barry Posner. The book, first published in 1987, was the result of four years of case studies of what makes great leaders and should be in your library. The authors discovered that there are five practices of exemplary leadership:
• Model the way: A great leader does what he says. It is easy to tell people how to behave and what to do. True leaders set high standards and values and go beyond just talking about them. They lead by example.
• Inspire a shared vision: They understand why the organizations exists and set the vision for where it is going, inspiring others to follow their lead as they work to achieve the shared vision.
• Challenge the process: Great leaders recognize that staying status quo equals going backwards. They challenge the status quo and look for ways to experiment and innovate. They know the importance of taking risks and aren’t afraid of the failures along the way. They learn from their failures. Without the risks, the breakthroughs and successes won’t be there either.
• Enable others to act: They delegate responsibilities. They hire smart people. They encourage them to innovate, take risks, make mistakes and encourage growth and develop new skills. Great leaders build interactive cohesive teams and allow others to participate in planning and decision making.
• Encourage the heart: Great leaders celebrate and appreciate the accomplishments of others. They support and defend those working for them. When necessary, they publicly take responsibility for their employees’ mistakes and coach those who made them to learn from those mistakes.