As companies search and develop talent, the debate continues on what separates a leader from the rest of the corporate pack. Are high-performance leadership qualities intrinsic or can they be cultivated over time?

Leadership is defined as a relationship among leaders and followers that effect changes and outcomes that reflect shared objectives.

Leadership involves people taking personal responsibility to make things happen. Let's look at what makes a great leader and how you can work towards the development of high-performance leadership within your organisation.

To manage or lead?

Management and leadership are both important aspects and focusing on both is an uphill task. Traditional management is needed to meet current obligations to customers, stockholders and employees.

The problem is too many people are managing, a few are leading and and an even smaller number have integrated the skills and qualities needed for both leadership and management challenges.

Organisations need leaders to envision the future, motivate and inspire employees, and adapt to changing needs. Jack Welsh, the former chief executive office (CEO) of General Electric, is well known for combining good management with effective leadership.

As a CEO, he controlled costs and increased productivity. A visionary leader, he actively promoted change and rewarded performance by distributing stock options to his employees.

The leadership challenge

The biggest challenge facing leaders today is the changing world that calls for a new leadership paradigm. The new reality involves the shift from stability to change and crisis management; control to empowerment; competition to collaboration; uniformity to diversity; and from a self-centred focus to a higher ethical purpose.

In addition, the leader as hero is giving way to the humble leader who nurtures others and shares credit. These changes suggest that a philosophy based on control and personal ambition will fail today.

The challenge for leaders is to set a new standard that relies on people skills, integrity and teamwork.

Art or science?

Leadership requires practice and hands-on experience. It is art because important skills and qualities cannot be picked up from a textbook. And it is also a science, with a growing body of knowledge describing the leadership process and how skills are used to attain organisational goals.

One of the most important aspects of the new paradigm of high-performance leadership is the ability to use interpersonal skills to build a culture of performance, trust and integrity. A global study compared derailed executives with those who have successfully arrived at the top. The successful executives have good people skills. The best leaders are deeply interested in the lives of others.

Like a captain of a sporting team, leaders need to innovate, inspire, and possess foresight. Not only do they believe in their vision, but they also have the self-belief and conviction to communicate it to others.

Furthermore, leaders are non-conformists. Some excite and lift spirits; others have tactical skills and the ability to spot opportunities or protect against disaster.

High-performance leaders use intellectual and emotional capabilities to guide organisations through turbulent times. They energise, motivate and care for employees in times of change, uncertainty and job insecurity.

A different approach

To groom leaders, the basic management skills of process, control and communication will continue to be taught in the traditional way - in classrooms or through mentorships. But for managers to become outstanding high-performance leaders, a scientific approach that demonstrates measurable results and has a positive impact on the bottom line is needed.