>You’ve either got it or you haven’t….Oh, really???

>When I think of leadership, I think of things like ability to empathise, ability to achieve win-win in conflict situations, ability to motivate and inspire, ability to delegate (which implies ability to ‘let go’ and trust others), ability to think and act strategically, being self-aware…..

In my previous life as a therapist, I had extensive training and supervision around attachment, as most of my clients had some sort of attachment disorder, and from those experiences, I have come to believe that we are all born with dispositions.  They are the ‘background music’, if you like, that colours our initial interactions with the world.  Things like ‘character traits’, ‘personality traits’ or whatever term you wish to use, however, are learned in our early years.  These things eventually become part of our hard wiring, but we are not born with these.  We are intensely influenced and shaped by our early environment and early relationships in such a way as to colour a lot of how we see the world and how we respond to it.  I’m talking about how early relationships and experiences impact on our limbic systems.
I believe the only things that are innate are our drives to move away from pain  or move towards pleasure.  HOW we do that is shaped by those formative years. 
I am suggesting that leadership skills are ALL learnt.  Nobody is born with the ability to empathise.  We learn that when we receive empathy from our primary caregivers.  Having said that, all of those ‘soft skills’ I listed earlier, and others, can be developed and honed later in life.  There are now human technologies which can, to some extent, re-hard-wire our brains such that we can develop these things.  In my work, I apply a suite of action learning methods distilled from the work of Jakob Moreno.  While some of my clients say it feels like ‘magic’ when they notice immediate and lasting shifts in their world, it is definitely not magic.  Modern science is now doing research which shows that when such methods are applied, the key parts of the limbic system which need to be stimulated (in order to re-learn an emotionally based response) are indeed activated.
I think a lot of the cynicism about training these skills is derived from people’s experiences of ‘training events’ which don’t result in significant shifts in attitude or behaviour.  It is vital when crafting a learning programme, that the correct type of learning PROCESS is used.  Transactional processes are great when trying to train something like ‘how to use excel spread sheets’ or ‘how to write a business plan’, but transformational processes are best used when trying to develop something anything in the realm of leadership, culture or communication, if we want to actually learn HOW to do something and not just learn ABOUT it.  It is also important to see leadership development as just that…NOT training.  Training and development are both essential but have different applications and generate different outcomes.  Leadership is developmental.  It does not happen at an event, it happens over time, so patience, hard work and commitment are required.  

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4 thoughts on “>You’ve either got it or you haven’t….Oh, really???

  1. >Thanks for this insight John. I now have a greater appreciation for what and why human technology applies. To the notion that leadership skills are "learnable", I agree and further add that like any learning process, good leaders keep learning and often the enjoyment and impact is often realised by others. Hence, the recognition of good leadership is via the value sets of people and business culture.

  2. >Thanks for putting together such an excellent article Your argument that all leadership skills are learnt is compelling and makes absolute sense. I fully support your comments on training and people's perception of it which I think often comes from the HR/L&D 'professional bodies' who suggest that behavioural change will come as a result of all training – which it patently does not. Unfortunately, not all Trainers actually get it.

  3. >Thanks for your input Paul. I'm always glad to know that others believe that old dogs can always learn new tricks. I am with you, and further to your assessment of HR/LD professional bodies….. When I was a therapist, we aimed to tailor our interventions, i.e we used the modality or suite of modalities which best suited the individual AND the therapeutic outcome. One reason (of many) for therapy 'not working' is that the modality is not the optimal one for that client and that issue. In workplace LD (and OD in fact), there are a range of possible methodologies to choose from and sometimes the one that gets the outcomes is not necessarily the most popular or easiest or flavour of the month. However, I've seen HR select providers who offer lowest price or have the most well-known name or who are using the hottest new technique or trick (or are better at promising the world with slick sales patter), but who may not actually have the capability to get the outcomes. I'm pretty sure that as educators, we should be assisting our clients and potential clients to sift through the various ways of providing a training or development programme, before trying to sell them our services. They will love us more if we point them in the direction of someone who can do exactly what they need, rather than insist that we are the ones who can always do it.

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