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How to Develop Leaders

Are Leaders Born or Made

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Eric West: One thing that I can’t believe that I forgot to ask you about now in hindsight is this duality between can leaders be developed or are leaders born.

Todd Holzman: Oh, yeah. That old trope.

Eric West: Yeah. And I think because I’ve run into this so many times within organizations, I think we should just talk briefly about this, but what I’ve heard a lot is why should we spend any money in L&D developing leaders because we all know that leadership is just a natural ability, you either have it or you don’t. It’s something that possibly you’re born with or you have an inclination to do it. And a lot of people believe that I’m just not a leader, so that’s not my role. You’re the leader, you should worry about that, I shouldn’t.

Todd Holzman: So your question is, what do I think about all that?

Eric West: Yeah, I mean…

Todd Holzman: This is called, he’s setting me up everyone. So again, it depends upon what you mean by leadership. We talk about this term as if we all are talking about the same thing.

So, if we’re talking about leadership as something that someone does. Again, mobilizing other people to confront and deal with problems and opportunities in order to make their lives better, the groups we’re part of, the organizations we work for, the institutions upon which we depend, people in our families, that is certainly something that can be learned. For sure.

There was a great book called Leadership Can Be Taught maybe by Ellie Drago-Severson, I may be forgetting… Or, somebody else. Do you remember who it’s by?

Eric West: Could be Ellie. I’m not sure.

Todd Holzman: Could be Ellie. I think it’s somebody else that’s worked with Ron. But I certainly look at what people do after a program like this, and they’re actually able to do things that they weren’t able to do before. They’re able to mobilize and connect with other people to address real problems and opportunities to solve complex problems, to change things and innovate inside their organizations all of the time.

And the truth is, it is also useful to believe that because we need leadership from people at all levels, regardless of their place in the hierarchy or their function or their role in society. Things move too quickly and problems are too complex and things are just getting more and more complex over time, you can’t look up to the top leader and hope for answers like mana from Heaven. It’s like there’s no saviors, man. It’s people got to be able to solve things at their local level or between each other, between different departments. By the time you talk to the man or woman upstairs, it’s too late. And they’re not omniscient. So we need everyone to take responsibility for leading from all levels and in all directions.

Now, if you talk about are there some people who are maybe more genetically disposed to getting that powerful position in role or who are particularly charismatic? Yeah, there might be some truth to that. But that’s not what we’re talking about when we talk about leadership, at least not with this course. There might be some people who are more genetically predisposed to having some big role or title. I don’t know what the research shows on that. But we do know, if you look at McClellan’s motives, McClellan was another great researcher from Harvard, people with high power motives are certainly people who tend to rise up in organization, and that’s something you’re largely born with.

Eric West: And we talked about this during the personality theory module, and that is how Hogan Assessment Systems looks at leaders too is this, do they have the personality traits to succeed in this position within X, Y, Z organization? And Hogan would argue that your personality is-

Todd Holzman: Relatively fixed.

Eric West: Well, yeah, it’s born and it’s fixed and it’s stable over time.

Todd Holzman: You’re right.

Eric West: But I don’t think that all the time, people who really want to be in authority and need to be in authority are always best positioned to be in authority.

Todd Holzman: Sometimes they’re the worst.

Eric West: Yeah. I mean, if you have someone that needs to be in power and likes having power over, then that can be a really complicated position for that person to be in primarily because they might misuse that power. And so we don’t know the data behind the personality assessment.

Todd Holzman: I didn’t understand until just now I think why this is such an important question that you’re asking because there are so many traditional images of what a leader is, of what a leader looks like, what a leader is not, and what a leader does not look like. I think a lot of those things are just bullshit. Quite honestly. Straight up. I’m not supposed to curse maybe-

Eric West: We’re [inaudible 00:05:55].

Todd Holzman: A lot of people, who are listening to this, may not see themselves as, oh, I can’t exercise leadership or that’s not my role, my job, any of that. If you got a brain and a mouth, that’s all you need. Seriously. There was research done by, what was it, Jim Collins in Good to Great. And he looked at these companies that had outperformed the Dow or something or outperformed other companies in their categories for a period of 15 years. And the people who headed up those companies were not the louder charismatic leaders, they were quieter. Actually, that’s really interesting to me.

I always say it’s the quiet ones you’ve got to watch out for, I still think it’s true. What we care about is people who are thoughtful. Being able to listen, being able to empathize, be able to think deeply below the surface of things. Those are as or more important than your ability to get attention. Now, I’m not saying the ability to get attention isn’t important, it still is. But good leadership work is thoughtful. It’s quiet. So if you’re more of an introverted person, for example, or you’re not very extroverted, fine, that can also be a strength of yours because you’re maybe the person who’s going to listen better than somebody else who’s always talking. And maybe you’ll ask better questions and maybe you’re going to be more curious and maybe you have the opportunity to see below the surface because you’re not busy yapping all the time, distracting you from thinking. And then when you speak up as the person who’s quiet, well, holy cow, where did you come from? And now you say something that’s awesome because you’ve been so thoughtful.

And now you’re able to get attention on the issues in ways that are quite helpful to other people. And maybe because you’re a little softer, you don’t pull so much attention on yourself and you get attention onto the real issues. So now I’m not trying to dissuade people who are more extrovert at all, please, great. But the people who tend to de-authorize themselves a lot, I think are people who are quieter, who are more introverted. And I’m telling you, if you’re listening to this, is that the world needs you as much as these people who are more talkative. And that what you might see as a liability for exercising leadership of the world actually might be a source of strength and capability.

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