Do You Want to Build a Leader?

Discovering what it really takes to make a leader in today’s workplace

Funny snowmen against Swiss Alps

With humble apologies in advance for drawing on that memorable song title from the movie soundtrack, Frozen, but “do you want to build a leader?” At the same time it begs an answer to the question on how do you really build leaders in today’s global workplace?

1. Leading and learning at the same time. Leadership has often been relegated to being a chicken and egg question of whether a leader is born or made. Simply remove the “or” and realize in reality it is both. Some people will have innate abilities and confidence to lead a group of people to achieve things they couldn’t do on their own, while another person just happens to rise up the ranks and with direction and encouragement also learns how to lead people. Both types of leaders will end up leading and learning while on the job.

No doubt, Anna, the character in Disney’s Frozen movie, at times acted before she thought, but her inner leadership qualities of fearlessness and positive attitude helped her embark on the journey to save her sister, her family and the entire kingdom of Arendelle. Sometimes, real leadership develops only in the doing and not through reading or taking executive leadership programs.

A McKinsey & Company report said, “Too many training initiatives we come across rest on the assumption that one size fits all and that the same group of skills or style of leadership is appropriate regardless of strategy, organizational culture or CEO mandate.”

We need to learn more on the job than we do off site and have our current leaders become effective teachers to help our leaders grow.

2. Leadership lessons through others. A great leader knows they can’t be expected to know it all, or else their insecurity in thinking they need to know everything will end up crippling them. Learning leadership lessons from others requires a person to be open and vulnerable.

John McGuire and Gary Rhodes, in their book Transforming Your Leadership Culture (2009), point out that if organizations want to create sustained change they must develop a leadership culture simultaneously with developing individual leaders.

This requires all of us to get on the leadership development bandwagon and be ready to be called upon to learn something new in order to help others learn and the company to grow.

3. Leading comes through reflecting. There is no better opportunity to lead and learn well than by asking what you can do better today than you did yesterday. It is important as a leader to make time to ponder the experiences in a day and to ask yourself, why did some things work and others failed? What one thing can I learn from today that will make me a better leader tomorrow? How can I influence others to maximize their strengths on the job?

Leadership development can no longer be regarded as pouring leadership principles and competencies into a person’s mind and proclaiming, “now you’re a leader”. Instead, McGuire and Rhodes (2009), boldly stated, “Today’s horizontal development within a mind-set must give way to the vertical development of bigger minds.”

Each of us must take responsibility for our own personal leadership growth. Asking ourselves questions will help with serious self-reflection and solid learning.

Tweet: Each of us must take responsibility for our own personal leadership growth.

4. Leading from the inside out. If there is one thing we can learn from the financial crisis and some of the crazy corporate collapses, is that those who were supposedly in leadership positions, forgot to align their actions and behaviors with the compass of integrity.

The Center for Creative Leadership in their 2014 Future Trends in Leadership Development suggest a future focus of leadership not belonging to an elite few or even individually, but that sustainable leadership must be a collective leadership. This requires everyone to develop together, so while one person may be stronger in some skills sets over another person, they will pull a colleague up first to their strengths level before acquiring additional skillsets. This requires potential leaders to have an inner strength to sacrifice self for the good of developing leadership in everyone.

5. Leading and learning from mistakes. Leaders are people first and foremost, and put on their pants and skirts, the same way as anyone else does in the company. And yet, somehow, many can immortalize those in leadership position for what they do and have done in the past.

Theodor Roosevelt is recorded as saying, “The only man who never makes a mistake is the man who never does anything.”

The best leadership development comes through on-the-job projects and assignments, which will impact the business while also improving leadership skills. But it can be hard with the pressure of improving company performance results and gaining personal learning at the same time. Likewise, when mistakes are made, are we prepared to learn from them along the way? And more importantly, are we willing to share the learning points gained with others in order to prevent future mistakes?

In this way, learning and leadership can be developed across the organization even when we fail.

It appears developing leaders for tomorrow is no easy task. We can awaken the latent leadership qualities within each of us by careful introspection, and challenging our beliefs and assumptions regarding behaviors we need to develop. Then we can customize individual growth plans and share them with each other to permit real leadership learning to happen, be encouraged, receive feedback on, and ultimately benefit everyone.

Building leaders is a lot like building a snowman. You have to roll all the leaders together to connect, share and experience differences qualities and business opportunities together. When you stack up the leadership potential of each individual together, you will have an exciting organization that delivers powerful results and makes a real contribution to society.

Q: How do you really build leaders in your organization?

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