Leaders – Born or Sculpted and How are leaders developed?
Today humans live in civilised societies. Compare this to the hunter-gather time and earlier periods of known human history, through cognitive and agricultural revolutions and the short period of renaissance and industrialisation, up until modern history as we witness it today. One constant attribute present all through these periods is leadership across humanity in various facets of life. It has reached such significance that leadership development is a well-established science with principles and practices that help mould leaders.
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Leadership through history
The evolution of leadership has taken varied paths, for sure, by interweaving itself within human existence. Humans are social animals. In its most primitive form, leadership was the fight that existed among individuals to establish their dominance as the alpha member of the tribe. These traits are exhibited by chimpanzees and bonobos (the closest species to human beings) even today. Almost all animals that live in social groups show some form of a power struggle to establish dominance. However, leadership within humankind has evolved from a power-struggle leading to establishing authority to be an inclusive leader who walks with the followers. (S)he is a source of inspiration rather than intimidations.
Need for leadership development
Leadership has broken away from the shackles of traditional avenues such as politics and diplomacy mainly due to the advent of limited liability companies and the rapid increase in entrepreneurship during the modern era. Today leadership cannot limit to the four walls of a decision-making process. It is a science and art where the leader helps the organisations achieve their objectives by being a true visionary who drives the wheels of organisational effort into meaningful outcomes with his critical thinking, business acumen and proactive response to a rapidly changing business environment. Hence it is rightly said that a leader is one who inspires action. Leaders today set strategic vision as well as help the organisations achieve a healthy and inclusive work environment. The global economy is affected continuously by disruptive forces of the market. A great leader not only sails through adversity with ease but also strives to capitalise on hidden opportunities.
According to an Oracle White Paper (June 2012) on “Seven Steps for effective leadership development”, a study conducted in 2008, only 36% of the companies surveyed responded to having an effective plan that would help them fill out leadership roles. It means that most companies lack an actual plan to manage their in-house talent regarding identification, attraction and retention of corporate leadership roles. A proper talent management process in a business entity strives to identify employees with potential leadership qualities or traits and invest in their leadership development to prepare to face strategic issues in the future adequately. It also reduces the reliance to hire leaders from the external industry, which would again mean higher costs, longer durations in getting acquainted with working, understating core issues the business faces, etc. Succession planning, career planning, and performance management help the business face the talent shortage issue in critical leadership roles.
How are leaders developed?
Leadership development means engaging the potential leaders in activities, simulations and role-play etc., that enable them to improve their skill sets and function as leaders. Management is an art as well as science. It is a science in that business management has a significant amount of knowledge developed over the years; it is subject to experimentations, and management systems have universal applicability. It has tangible, proven principles and has an entire sect of people studying and applying those principles in their daily lives. It is an art that respects management and leadership styles vary from person to person based on the techniques used and insights gained through their practical experience in leadership roles.
Companies can accelerate this experiential learning through programmes designed to develop talent, which will give them a bird’s eye view of what these leadership roles entail and envisage.
It is a myth that only big corporates can afford to design and implement such programmes. In the age of easy consulting and outsourcing, even small businesses can leverage this to develop leaders. They can do this by relying on firms that exclusively deal with leadership assessments and talent building programmes strategically to suit the client’s needs at affordable costs, minus the headaches of developing and implementing a plan themselves. Leaders are no longer just born, but the ever-increasing demand for better leaders to show the way forward and help organisations build resilience means they ought to be sculpted so that businesses remain relevant and not fade away with time.