Some leaders are born great but many of us need to have experienced great business leadership to become one according to cognitive and business psychologist Dr Lynda Shaw.
Historically, leaders were associated with men who were tall, strong, well-educated and power oriented. Derived from the 19th century, the ‘Great Man’ Theory was a term that was given to describe the men and heroes of the day – figures of authority who utilised their power born from their personal traits of wisdom, intelligence and confidence. Shaw argues that whilst naturally this theory is somewhat out of date, are great leaders born skilled or can great leadership be learned?
According to Albert Bandura’s observational learning theory (aka social learning theory), learning occurs through observing the behaviour of others. This particularly rings true to those who value and look up to respected leaders as they have the tendency to replicate their behaviour and use them as their model. Social Contagion founded by Gustave Le Bon, a French social psychologist and founder of crowd psychology, looks at how our behaviour can help shape the outlook, values, emotions and behaviours of others. Shaw says: “This type of theory applied by leaders would work wonders to enable key qualities in their co-workers such as hard work, having a positive attitude and approach to business matters, to think creatively and intuitively and to motivate the team in believing that they are capable of reaching great heights.
Ideas such as these are in keeping with John Adair’s theory of action-centred leadership. A simple, effective model that encompasses three elements that a successful leader can juggle at the same time: clear focus on achieving goals with a team working together but with each individual proactive and involved. Again these are learnable skills.
Shaw says: “Natural born leaders exude that ‘extra something’ that instantly sets them apart from the crowd and enables them to shine. Whether it’s their natural warmth, confidence or possessing a strong self-belief, their social skills and likeability factor similarly plays a key role in attracting the attention of colleagues and clients alike. To have this kind of powerful charm is certainly a gift, but there is great value to a business in having a solid leader who possesses detailed knowledge, experience and commitment. It would therefore be unjust to presume that good leaders cannot be made through teaching and guidance.
“Good leaders are able to cope with challenges, can self reflect, are “people” orientated, are able to make decisions and can accept constructive criticism to enable personal growth. Good leaders give each team member a voice to share ideas and play a part in the decision-making process so employees are made to feel invested and valued. Leaders who deprive the involvement from their colleagues are often left feeling unwanted, detached and worthless. As a result, the cortisol stress levels and adrenaline gradually intensifies leading to physical and mental illness, which in turn can be very damaging to the individual as well as the business.
“Whether leaders are born or created is debatable but the answer is probably both. Ultimately great leadership comes with many years of learning and experience whereby new opportunities are discovered, adversities are surmounted and successful teams are built. A touch of wow factor also helps.”