AS COMPANIES strive to search for and develop talent, there is considerable debate on what separates a leader from the rest of the corporate pack.
Are leadership qualities intrinsic to an individual or can they be taught, developed and nurtured over time?
Like a captain of a sporting team or a general of an army, leaders need to innovate, inspire, excite or provide a clear vision to others. They hold and believe in a vision and, just as importantly, have the self-belief and conviction to communicate it to others.
A manager can implement processes, monitor performance, set business goals and objectives and generally take care of the day-to-day needs of their staff. However, achieving authentic leadership takes more than textbook management skills.
With enough training, those with leadership potential can be developed into outstanding leaders. However, there are things that cannot be taught. This is the difference between skill and talent. Confusing the two can set up a manager for disappointment.
Self-awareness is perhaps one of the most difficult leadership skills to learn and yet it is the one that often has the most impact.
As leaders rise through the ranks of an organisation, their profile becomes more visible to employees and their increased power can have subtle and direct ramifications.
A strong management team underneath the leader can help formulate business-related questions but often the leader needs to ask himself questions like these:
Which areas of the business get the most time and attention and is that the right amount?
To what extent do I “walk the talk” of the corporate mission, vision, strategic goals and values?
Is my level of communication sufficient in the business for employees to perform “above and beyond” expectations?
Does my decision-making strike the right balance between the needs of employees and the business, and what is my record of success?
As an aspiring leader, one of the best ways to “look outside” is to observe leaders within your organisation who have traits you would like to emulate, and who have nurtured their careers to achieve the success you desire.
In observing these people, list three behaviours or things they have done which you admire, three ways you describe their leadership style and three things your company values in a leader.
In compiling this list, speak with others in your company to get an understanding of the qualities they are looking for in leaders. Armed with this list, you can then compare it with your assessment of yourself to identify areas for development.
With the knowledge of what you need to develop, the next step is to formulate a plan to help you get there.
As executives rise to leadership positions, the complexity of people management grows considerably. Leaders need hard skills, for example, how to write a sales plan, and soft skills, sometimes referred to as emotional intelligence.
Research by the Goleman Consortium indicates that 85 per cent of leadership competencies relate to how you tap into and manage your emotions and the emotions of those around you.
According to Daniel Goleman, the author of Emotional Intelligence, characteristics such as self-confidence, empathy and conflict-management are examples of emotional management skills needed in a leader.
Work in progress
In developing leaders, organisations are increasingly addressing hard and soft skills development concurrently. Becoming a leader may require postgraduate study, such as an MBA degree, plus an executive coaching programme that is tailored to the individual’s needs, as well as those of the company.
Coaches are also used to clarify career paths, enabling individuals to take responsibility for managing their own careers. Blended learning solutions that combine personal assessment, skill building and coaching to generate a new solution are the way of the future.
These types of solutions are generally transparent and focus on improved networking skills, business process integration, systemic and strategic thinking and innovation.
Companies at the forefront of this type of employee development often integrate the process into a wider context of succession planning — one of the most beneficial and valuable exercises the modern corporation can undertake.
Basic management skills of process, control and communication are still needed and will probably continue to be taught in the traditional way, in classrooms or through mentoring.
But in order for managers to become outstanding leaders, there needs to be a different and more scientific approach to management development, one that shows measurable results and ultimately has a positive impact on the bottom line.
For Singapore’s budding leaders to compete with the world’s best, senior managers need to embrace the latest techniques of human leadership development. The price of not doing so will create plenty of managers, but very few leaders.