When we run our bite-sized ‘How to develop your leadership style’ workshop, an old question often comes up: “Are leaders born or made?” Whilst it’s been my observation that some leaders show their potential at a very early stage in their careers, it doesn’t necessarily follow that this slams the door in a late developer’s face, far from it. We can all develop our leadership capability, whether we’re just starting out or have been in a post with a ‘leadership’ label for some time.
I think it’s like many ambitions: we can reach what we’re aiming for, if we want it enough. If you think you ‘should’ or ‘must’ be a leader, beware making a rod for your own back. Yet more ‘ought tos’ and ‘should dos’ on the to-do list, as if there isn’t already enough going on. So before compiling the shopping list of leadership capabilities, stop and ask yourself what kind of leader you want to be.
Think of leaders who’ve inspired you – how do/did they do that? Is it simply how they speak to you? Or is it about their conviction, sense of purpose and the way they’re able to transmit that to those around them?
Our inspirational leaders may be famous figures on the world stage or in history – Churchill, Barack Obama, Queen Elizabeth 1, Ghandi. Or they may be people we know through work – your organisation’s boss, or your previous boss, or an industry figurehead. Our inspirational leaders may be much closer to home – I’d definitely put my Mum in there, and both my grandmothers – they may be people in your family or your community. What they all have in common is we are inspired to follow them – whether that’s their beliefs, actions or the way in which they do things.
- Note down your inspirational leaders – aim for 3 – 5 at first. What did/do they do that inspires you? Note down as many things as you can for each, identifying specific behaviours. How did/do they do that? Note down their characteristics.
- Now consider the lists you’ve made and mark the items where you can confidently say, “I’m already doing that”. Notice the situations when you are doing those things that you find inspirational in others – and the situations when you can now start to do them.
- Finally, note the items you want to add to your leadership repertoire. How will you add them to your everyday behaviour at work? OK, you may not be addressing millions of people, but you may have a team meeting where you need to get everyone behind a project – so that will be a chance to give your communication skills a boost. You may not be strategising a major foreign policy but you are likely to contribute to a discussion on how best to tackle a project, so consider implications, risks and opportunities as you plan.
Shameless plug alert – there are more exercises on this in my book, which is out now.
Dawn is the author of ‘How to be Zoomly at work’, available on Amazon.