The age-old question asks, “Are leaders born or made?”
There was a time when the great-person theory of leadership implied that a precious few were “born leaders.” That premise assumed that good leaders possessed innate qualities—charisma, magnetism, or physical appearance—that compelled others to willingly follow them. A century’s worth of research on leadership has proven that leading people is a function, not a personality trait. As such, leadership is a skill that we can learn.
This past weekend, I spoke to a group of educators about the future of leadership. Specifically, I told a room full of schoolteachers what skills the next generation of leaders—who just happen to be their current students—will require. My list is a compilation of frustrations that business leaders regularly express to me concerning the generation of employees just entering the workforce. In other words, these are the skills that our newest workers lack.
Here, then, are my Top 10 Abilities future leaders will need to possess:
10) Taking Risks
I’m often asked by leaders, “Why won’t my young employees take any initiative?” I believe the blame rests with hovering mothers and fathers, the so-called “helicopter parents,” who have over-structured their children’s lives. For example, they might pick up their kids from school at 2:00 and drive them to ball practice; then they likely collect the kids at 3:30 and shuttle them to dance class; dinner is at 5:30; and homework starts promptly at 7:00. When these kids go to work they appear to lack initiative. Indeed, they’re waiting for someone to tell them what to do next.
When we’re little, failure is acceptable. Fall down when you’re first learning to walk and grownups will marvel over your growth. But something happens by the time we go to work. Failure no longer represents personal progress; it reflects incompetence. As a result, their fear of failing prevents young people from taking initiative in the workplace. This needs to change.
8 ) Speaking Multiple Languages
Without question, our economy is increasingly globalized and knowing a foreign language will be a plus. But I’m not talking about being bilingual in the international sense. I’m referring to having the ability to communicate with other generations. For the first time ever, we have four generations in the workplace, all with their own terminology, slang, and jargon. Not to mention their own preferences for communicating (text message versus fax, for example). Too bad there’s no such thing as being bi-generational. I mean Jeepers-Creepers!
7) Working in Spurts
Work fragmentation is a growing challenge at work. The average length of time we work on a task before being interrupted is just over eleven minutes. What’s more, it takes us on average more than twenty-five minutes to resume what we were doing before the interruption. Managers, who experience 50 percent more external interruptions than employees do, need to be able to stop and start without succumbing to frustration.
6) Sharing Knowledge
Knowledge is power, as they say. So sharing knowledge can feel like giving away power, and that can be scary. (Remember Wally Pipp?) Sharing knowledge is actually multiplying power, not subtracting it. Therefore, it’s never too early to learn how to empower others.
5) Pursuing Mastery
Our education system seems to be hung up on proficiency. Many states base school funding on student proficiency test scores. As a result, we don’t care if kids are great at one or two things, as long as they’re proficient at everything. But as the English proverb proclaims, “A jack of all trades is master of none.”
4) Seeing the Cathedral
Two stonemasons are working side-by-side when an observer asks, “What are you doing?” One stonemason replies, “I’m cutting stone.” The other stonemason says, “I’m building a great cathedral.” In business, we call the second response seeing the big picture. We call the first response typical.
3) Keeping Hope Alive
Whenever people share a new idea at work, there’s usually someone who shoots down the suggestion with a reflexive been-there-tried-that rejection. To keep from becoming discouraged, future leaders will want to defy the verdict. Note: While we’re teaching kids new things, perhaps we should train current leaders how to unlearn and relearn what they already know.
2) Resolving Conflict
Conflicts are natural occurrences, so clashes and disagreements are predictable. Most managers respond by either steering clear of the conflict altogether or authoritatively resolving the dispute. Rather than dictating the solution, leaders need to know how to mediate conflicts. This skill will serve leaders well whether they’re in the schoolyard or in the workplace.
1) Proving Credibility
Leadership credibility means consistency between what leaders say and what they do. But in today’s scandal-plagued business environment, less than half of U.S. employees trust the senior leaders of their organizations. As a consequence, even honorable leaders must proactively seek opportunities to demonstrate their credibility.
“Credibility is the foundation on which leaders and constituents will build the grand dreams of the future.” James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner, Credibility
I’m not arrogant enough to advise educators on how to go about teaching these leadership skills to their students. I only hope that by sharing employer feedback I might inspire teachers to expand their curriculums to include lessons in these qualities. As to the ancient question that began this post, I think Peter Drucker said it best: “Leaders grow; they are not made.”
So, if you’re a teacher, why not grow some leaders of your own?
George Brymer is author of Vital Integrities and the creator of The Leading from the Heart Workshop®. He can be reached at email@example.com