Leaders in the making?

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My firm can and does teach people how to be good leaders; but leadership is one of those areas where it’s sometimes hard to separate the roles of nature and nurture.

Effective leadership requires not just technical knowledge and understanding, not even the acquisition of a specific set of communicable skills. The best leaders also have qualities that are hard to define, let alone teach in a classroom setting.

Qualities such as vision, integrity, decisiveness, self-confidence, emotional intelligence and a sense of humour. To a certain extent, all of these (with the arguable exception of the last one on our list) can be learned. But only to a certain extent.

We hear a lot about ‘born leaders’ and there’s little doubt that, by the time they enter the workplace at least, some people are clearly better cut out than others to play leadership roles. But in reality, with the right guidance, most (if not all) of us can perform well in leadership functions.

Perhaps because the same qualities that initially impress also make them strangely impervious to acquiring the new skills they need to provide good leadership in the round.

Indeed, some of those who at first glance appear brimming with natural authority will actually perform badly as leaders in business. Perhaps because the same qualities that initially impress also make them strangely impervious to acquiring the new skills they need to provide good leadership in the round.

Among the more subtle skills required to lead effectively are understanding how different teams will respond to different management styles, planning and defining appropriate success criteria in any given situation, the ability to delegate and to provide constructive feedback and effective motivation. These are all areas my firm typically focuses on during the workshops and management development programs we deliver on leadership skills.

Developing so-called emotional intelligence is critically important in modern leadership roles. Learning to tune in to what makes different people tick in different ways can help you make the right decision fast when assessing how to get the response you need from those around you.

This is a relatively new area of focus in the business skills training field. The term ‘emotional intelligence’ itself was not widely recognised before the publication of Daniel Goleman’s book of that name in 1995. But we’ve found delegates at our management and leadership workshops are quick to recognise its value and respond positively to associated training exercises.

And then there’s that elusive sense of humour. Leaders with a good sense of humour can help keep morale high through challenging times. But there are pitfalls here, as well, as TV’s David Brent so eloquently illustrated. No two people have an identical sense of what is and isn’t funny. And the same person may respond differently to the same remark from one day to the next (see emotional intelligence above!).

A so-called GSOH may be the one leadership quality that really can’t be trained in. And for those who really haven’t got it, pretending can be a great way to lose the respect of those around you. The good news for anyone so challenged, is that a practiced deadpan manner can go a surprisingly long way!

The insurance sector, in which my own firm specialises, is rife with examples of what goes wrong when firms promote people who are, for example, good salesmen or good underwriters into leadership roles on the naive assumption that, if they are good at something themselves, they will be good at leading others doing the same thing.

Sometimes you may get lucky and they will take to it like a duck to water. But more often they won’t. Not everyone has a natural aptitude for leadership, but a modest investment in appropriate training can usually supply what nature hasn’t.

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Ian Jerrum

SEARCHLIGHT INSURANCE TRAINING - Arranging training and consultancy for the Financial Services industry - Setting up and developing a new insurance company - Leading an asset finance company - Non-Executive director Specialties: - A versatile and innovative professional executive with proven track record - Experienced non-executive director - Experienced in takeovers and mergers - Liveryman at the Worshipful Company of Insurers - Chartered Insurer

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