The Quest for Leadership Skills: How to Truly Become a Leader

Who is a true leader? How are they identified? And how are they raised?

Sometime ago, I recall watching a group of young kids – average of about 3 years of age – at a children’s birthday party. Complete strangers most of them were to each other. They were dancing and enjoying themselves. Their parents and other adults were equally chatting away and enjoying the ambience of the party.

From the corner of my eye, I noticed a particular kid who quietly had lured a few other children to an outside circle. He was showing these other ones some things of interest. He was also talking to each of his captured peers as they giggled away.

Suddenly, there was a loud shrieking from this group. This got the attention of some parents who beckoned on them to come back to the main dancing crowd.
The question I asked myself was; how did this very young “team leader” lure his peers away from the main gathering? It is obvious; it is simply a natural instinct to persuade others. I believe teachers that teach young kids will attest to this wonderful nature of human beings as such evolving influencers were not taught.
And now the question would be; could this attribute be sustained or become extinguished as the child grows into adulthood? Can such leadership traits be imposed on just any individual?

Now, let us pause for a while to do this simple exercise:
Think of those people who have shown traits of impactful leadership, today and in the past. Whether they are regarded being famous or infamous; regarded as good or bad persons. Many names will come to your mind now.
How many of them do you think – in their different areas of human endeavor – had formal leadership courses imposed on them?
How many on their own volition actually sought and carry out leadership roles?
I will leave it at that for now.

What would true leadership be about?
Either in business; as the head of a team or an organization, leadership is different from managerial competence or technical capabilities of an individual. These aforementioned are not interchangeable with the leadership role, as an attribute or skill if you would call it.

However, a real leader could have the managerial and technical skills within his or her area of discipline. Let’s be clear again. An individual with proficiencies in technical or management may not necessarily be a good leader.

Who is a True Leader?

A leader is an individual who has the ability to carry others along to achieve a goal as expedient.
He becomes a rallying point by other people. Most natural leaders at onset are not aware of this noble character. But something always make them to put a foot forward, even at the risk of unpredictable outcomes, unknowingly.

Leadership Development Courses Don’t Work

Leadership is a natural instinct. It could also be nurtured by an individual if he is jolted by some circumstance. Therefore he craves to become one. Then one wonders why organizations impose leadership training courses on individuals who are not psychologically ready for it.
It has been a huge waste of resources by many organizations using this approach across the world. Such should actually be referred to as management or technical development courses.

Nobody can be coaxed or mandated through a classroom setting to become a leader. Loosely, we can refer to leadership as a skill in some quarters but it is more accurate to qualify it as a behavioral trait. It is innate or can be developed by personal quest.

These programs are simply playing out a game of insincerity or could it be a deliberate ignorance of basic understanding of human nature?
The way to go is to look out for people with leadership traits across the different strata of an organization or within a group. Or they can be sourced from outside.
If we look well enough they would be identified. If we excuse our corporate biases from blinding us, we can locate them for further support and nurturing.

People with leadership qualities may not necessarily be extroverts or boisterous individuals. Some of them who are ready, can do far better than those who attend these leadership development courses.
Most ill-motivated attendees soon forget what to do when they are expected to lead at crucial crossroads.

Most of these participants easily shrug off such imposed knowledge like a duck coming out of water. Over time, they gravitate to their natural “followership” instinct. Yet it is not the fault of these attendees.

Those who score the highest points after such leadership programs might just be pretenders, ultimately. When big issues come up, there won’t be the time to go after the notebooks in order to take seamless actions. However, real leaders get into a responsibility mode – ready for whatever the outcomes of their actions.

We will be looking at a much better route to take, to locate potential leaders. This will reduce waste of time, money and other organizational resources. Much later on this as we read on.

Leadership and Public Perception

The public have different shades of opinion about the leadership role of a group or an organization. Members within such entities even have their own general perception of their leaders too.
Yet leadership is a role that must be taken up by an individual or a small group of decision makers. We have famous and infamous leaders. In the same vein, we also have good and bad leaders

Likewise, what a group stands for may be acceptable or not acceptable by the larger society. Therefore, we have good and bad groups. Also, we have good and bad organizations.

Another potpourri is having good leaders in good or bad organizations. Bad leaders in good or bad organizations. All as perceived outside of the leadership itself. The perception may be justifiable or not over time.

How to Find True Leaders?

Within the labyrinth of business conglomerates or amongst peers in basic human groups, persons imbued with the natural tendency of leadership may be found.
Some can readily be identified. Others may have to be found through painstaking and deliberate attempt.

They could be on the shop floor and up to the board level. And in-between, that is, the different units or relevant departments of any organization, they might nestle there as a dormant asset. Decision makers should look at these places. If this does not yield a positive result, this exercise can be extended outwards.

However a note of warning.
Not all individuals who are pushy could readily be assumed to have leadership qualities. Of course they could be. Allowance should be given to those who may not be the outspoken type or are introverts.

Beyond those with this innate attribute from childhood, there are also those whose diverse experience in life has jolted them into developing the traits of leadership.
Therefore the Human Resources unit should delve into present and past experiences of the relevant workforce, in addition to their technical competence.

This can be done during the hiring phase or after months or years of service. But this has to be done in a respectful manner, irrespective of the position of such individuals, at any unit or department, if accurate results are desired.

This exercise must be discreet as it may not be the final criterion for selection. An additional but more important requirement as deemed by the management must be carried out for objectivity. Some of these individuals may have a more rewarding world view to the organization than their peers or superiors.

The challenge is for organizations and their owners not to surrender this quest entirely into the hands of the Human Resources personnel.
Why is this so? Because born leaders naturally can identify another leader or those with potential for greatness.
So the questions are:

  • Are the heads of your HR department effective leaders?
  • Can they identify true leaders but not subject to their own limitations?
  • Have they really measured the ultimate return on investment of past trainings – even if they still consider these executive leadership development programs?
  • While we applaud some HR instruments and more; have they looked inwards and outside the company for gifted leaders who would be amenable to the organizational objectives?

Since it a delicate issue to identify and come up with good leaders, I will repeat that the board of an organization must continue to prod the Human Resources department to make objective selections.

In our private lives, most rational human beings can easily identify people with good leadership qualities. This same approach could be extended to formal groups or organization we belong to. Of course there would be additional forms of assessments. We must also be mindful of any prejudices or bias to allow for an objective assessment and outcome.

  • Within the organizational structure, peers, colleagues or employees would naturally have an impression about others. If given the chance, they can secretly ascribe to who could lead them within their unit, department or division.
  • Colleagues would anonymously score every other person within a particular unit, departmental or division in question. The management further appraises who they come up with. Such persons with the highest aggregate score should lead his or her team on the condition that he is interested.
  • For higher posts – up the rung of an organization’s ladder, where decision making is more risky and more delicate to any entity – extra care should be taken in assigning this role. And as mentioned above, you must confirm their acceptance and readiness for the new role.

It is expected that the chosen candidates on their own accord, would seek further self-improvement for improved performance.
As can be seen, you don’t persuade real leaders on what to do, to improve on their leadership skills. On their own volition, they find ways so that they can lead well.

Good to say, that decision makers in organizations have the power to encourage such identified individuals – to be tested and tried – who show these leadership tendencies. Those penciled down would have to work in accordance within the culture of the organization.

But we should be mindful that new leaders can be revolutionary in their leanings and thoughts.
Therefore, there might be some conflicts of interest, though for the common good. They could change the culture and tradition of their unit, department or the larger entity.
Some could be overbearing once given this authority. It should be expected. However a safety machinery must be instituted to tame them from this frailty of human weakness.

Leadership Qualities and Characteristics

There are expected ways to describe the personalities or behavior of a true leader. These traits can be seen at various situations and circumstances. It is should be noted that unique leadership traits can only be exhibited where the situation is amenable to the personality of the individual. He or she may not be a success in all situations and circumstances. But they are smart enough to know their limitations.

These are some traits expected of a matured leader:

  • They think about the common good of the unit, group or entity.
  • Many would rather be diplomatic in getting across their strong convictions in other to meet set-group objectives.
  • Natural leaders think about others’ welfare before self.
  • They would not normally ascribe the leadership nomenclature to themselves.
  • They are no fools: if their strong convictions are not accepted by others, they will move on, but are ready to bear the consequences of consensus of the action of the group. But not always.
  • They could be authoritative if they see what others are not seeing.
  • They are naturally servile within a group. This is a paradox of sorts. If need be, it creates better understanding of their team rather than keeping a distance. Some people will erroneously think they are being patronizing in this sense.
  • They are visionary in their thinking and implementation – almost being regarded as a sage. Accorded a cult following in some situations, even though it is not due to their own making.
  • They are perennial students who hunger after knowledge and also with an eye for detailed information. They will go after all these no matter the social class of the provider or the source of knowledge.
  • They yearn for improved project and regularly carry out self-critique for improved personal performance,
  • They can easily identify other potential leaders in order to mentor them.
  • They are courageous and can be very discretionary in not divulging sensitive information even after leaving for other organizations.
  • In their interactions with different people, respect and trust are sacrosanct to them.
  • Dignity, self-confidence with modest self-esteem and a quiet grace they do exhibit. But they know when to stamp their foot on the ground, if and when necessary.
  • Calculated patience and good listening ear, they have developed. They are calculative in their talking – done only when it very necessary. And that is real politicking.
  • They love to study other human beings, beyond the obvious. For successful leaders, this is their past time. They are aware people make them a subject of discreet study too. Therefore they never take anything for granted. Some of them can be regarded as being boring at times.
  • They accept their shortcomings and don’t see themselves as superhuman.
  • To show good examples, many are of good behavior in the public, but painfully so, privately nurse and manage their own short-comings. Some sacrifice by bearing the pains of conflicting personalities, once they accept their role of service.
  • They are ready to accept their faults but you can be sure, they will not rest until they discover reasons behind their failure. The hunger for perfection and performance is second nature to them.
  • Some of them don’t have the patience for sloppy behavior around them. They would want smarter people to be around them to give good advice at difficult moments. This refreshes and lift them up when they need to bounce around crucial ideas.
  • Matured leaders keep up taming their emotions rather than acting in a knee-jerk manner, in their reactions to challenging situations around.
  • Experienced leaders are not rigid, therefore they know what leadership style must be deployed at the appropriate time.
  • They are decisive, at where and when it matters.
  • They are innovative, therefore they are always brainstorming. They could be lonely or enjoy their solitary times when they must make important decisions on behalf of others.
  • And more…

The Truth About Leadership Styles

We all exhibit different inherent behavioral patterns. Even between identical twins, we can observe subtle or marked differences. So it seems when we study the outward behavior of leaders when they interact with people. These styles are equally brought about by other circumstances, some beyond their control.

Therefore as we identify the common leadership styles, allowance must be given to variations. As humans we are daily affected by varied issues. The inner devil or joyous emotions may affect a leader at one time or the other. Leaders struggle with these stimuli or master them to be effective in their actions.

  • A matured leader would decide when to be easy-going or authoritative as the situation demands. In other situations he will genuinely act or feign an attitude in-between these two extreme styles. Therein lies the challenge of leading others, managing one’s emotion and solving the problem at hand for the group or entity.
  • Effective leaders know what shade of behavior to pull from his or her bag of tricks. He will find a way out, as best natural for him, by instinct and experience to lead. Whatever the outcome, he is ready to accept the success or failure.

How to Truly Become a Real Leader?

As you desire further self-development, you can only belong to one of these three categories:

  • You are a born leader – by your actions – having been told repeatedly by others. You may have that inkling yourself, but not so sure. Now, you know.
  • You have the seed of leadership inside of you but have never been given the opportunity. But you are waiting to prove yourself. Meanwhile, you want to improve on your capacity to lead.
  • Unexpectedly, some issues have come up in your life where you must don the toga of leadership. The one who bells the cat, while others are still procrastinating or don’t know what is going on…

Now, this is what you must do:

  • You must research and identify – both in the past and present – those successful and pragmatic leaders. This is done through books, the internet and other different media. Or walking up to these would-be mentors.
    They may be within your circle of influence – around you – and in other climes. They don’t have to be stupendously rich and famous. Study their achievements in your industry and in other areas of human endeavor.
    See how they met and have been meeting set goals. Study how they engage and manage to get the general support of their group members, entity and people.
  • Study their thought patterns, personalities and why they took certain actions at different situations. I am not advocating you imitate them all the way. But sieve out the fundamentals. Read between the lines. Understand what is being said rather than hearing. Make your deductions and use the nuggets in your decision making.
  • Schedule mentoring sessions with them and if it is convenient for them, arrange a face-to-face physical visit or virtual interaction through any of the applicable technology.
  • Be aware it might be easy to strike a tutelage relationship. Don’t be discouraged if others are not immediately forthcoming. You must not be shy. Don’t give up. Communicate with them any information they would hunger for. That could initiate a rapport.Once you start the relationship going, you will be surprised how genuinely they want to share their thoughts, to build other people. Most won’t go out of their way unless asked for advice.
    You can go after them. It could be your elusive Group Managing Director, the CEO or that performing Supervisor. You don’t ask, you don’t receive.Of course a few will just want to be left alone. That is normal.
    The older these leadership mentors are, the better. This is not absolute anyway, as there are some younger people who are blessed with good leadership skills too.

With time, during your regular reflections, you will be able to identify a common thread noticed amongst these people. And those revelations would sink deep into you. What you have garnered would give you the confidence and the wherewithal to lead in your profession, business or in other human entities.

Summary

Those endowed with real leadership qualities will eventually be told about their uniqueness. And for those who lack leadership qualities but genuinely desire to become true leaders, once they are aware of what it entails, there are ways to go about it.
But they must rule out attending leadership development programs or courses! Real leaders come to be, on their own volition or by natural behavior in leading others to serve.

You don’t compel people to accept a leadership role if such persons are not psychologically ready. It is either you are naturally born with the seed of leadership or inclined to become one, mindful of its huge responsibilities.
For the latter, I am not talking about leading, for the sake of it; or for self-praise. If you do, with time, the world would soon demote you of your pretence.
Outlined above are a few traits which you must consider…

Let me hear your thoughts below if I missed out anything…

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