Are leaders born or made? How to nurture great leaders

How to spot and nurture team leaders within your organisation

When it comes to recruiting staff, times are hard for businesses everywhere. But whilst we’re often focused on the ‘doers’, trying to fill the roles left vacant by the Great Resignation, we often forget about organisational leaders. They’ve been holding down the fort throughout the pandemic, and research shows that they are now exhausted, burnt out and sometimes even thinking about jumping ship. In fact, leaders’ intention to leave is the “(…) top employee experience trend for the year ahead.” Which probably explains why Let’s Talk Talent (LTT) has noticed a marked increase in investment for leadership and management training.

We all know how difficult it can be to recruit good leaders. So surely training new ones from within the ranks of your organisation should be the next logical step? Which raises the question: can people be trained to become good leaders? Or are great leaders just born that way? Is it a case of nature or nurture? Here is our take on the question.

The difference between leadership and management 

First, it’s important to differentiate between managers and leaders. According to Jo Taylor, MD at Let’s Talk Talent, management is all about the daily grind: “Managers take care of everything related to the 3 P’s, which are People, Projects and Processes,” says Jo. Those elements can be taught, and they can also be delegated when required.

So what about leadership? “Leadership is the connection between purpose and passion. In other words, leaders want to make a difference, whilst managers want to get the job done. It’s something you have or you don’t,” she adds. And it’s not just about the C-Suite either. Natural leaders can be found in any area of your organisation.

According to a WorkingCapitalReview article, Google’s Project Oxygen has identified the skills that make great leaders. Spoiler! – they aren’t about projects or processes; they are all about people.

Some of the traits required by great leaders

  1. Being a good Coach
  2. Empowering the team (and avoiding micromanagement)
  3. Creating an inclusive environment
  4. Focusing on productive behaviours and results 
  5. Communicating well 
  6. Supporting career development and performance
  7. Having a vision and a strategy
  8. Demonstrating collaborative skills
  9. Making firm decisions

Whilst some of these skills could be taught, and indeed perfected, not all of them can. Having a vision, a purpose and the desire to develop and support others above yourself, for example, are difficult traits to acquire. “You can’t teach someone to care,” says Jo.

So how can you tell the difference between management material and leadership potential? “When the pedal hits the metal, that’s when you’ll know,” says Jo.

When under stress, most of us revert back to our usual management type and display behaviours that are familiar. True leadership is tested under pressure, as people enter survival mode. “There’s nowhere to hide, then, and no amount of training can overwrite your natural tendencies. That’s when you can really see those natural-born leaders shine through, and make their team feel safe and supported.”

Leadership is the art or practice of motivating a group of people in order to achieve a common goal. Leadership derives from social influence, rather than strict hierarchy or seniority. Anyone with the right skills, regardless of their position in a company or organisation, can be a leader.

Source: MasterClass

It’s also important to note that not all leaders are confident Obama-types, which can make them hard to spot. From the collaborative leader who ensures everyone has an equal say, to the more introverted leader who places the satisfaction of their employees above all else, there isn’t just one way to be an effective leader.

Fortunately, there are a variety of tools around to help you determine someone’s leadership potential. Have a look at the 16Personalities free personality test as an example, as well as Hogan and Saville Wave.

How to nurture leaders

Leadership goes much further than daily management of resources, projects, or processes, and not all team leaders will show the innate traits and emotional intelligence (EQ) required to support, motivate, and energise their staff. So, how can organisations ensure they have the right people in place, and retain them into the business during this difficult post-pandemic period?

At LTT, we believe in a two-pronged approach that includes both a succession planning and a learning and development (L&D) strategy.

1. Spotting the right candidates

The good news is that leaders can be found anywhere; amongst your factory workers as well as your C-Suite. A succession plan will help you find the high potential candidates that demonstrate the right leadership qualities, and give them the resources and support needed to develop their skills so they can step up to the plate.

2. Investing in leaders       

Whilst we believe that leadership is more of an innate quality, it doesn’t mean that your high potential candidates cannot be developed. Invest in leadership in the following ways:

  • Coaching
    This is a great way to help leaders stretch and challenge themselves within a safe environment. Trained coaches can focus on particular skills, or set key milestones or objectives to get your people out of their comfort zones. 
  • Play to their strengths
    Find out what your leaders’ strengths are and ensure the job allows them to be utilised. For example, some may be great at generating energy and motivating the troops when morale is down. Making them attend endless board meetings is likely to drain and demotivate them, as well as leave their greatest strengths untapped. Use tools such as Insights, DISC assessments or the High5 test to help you achieve this. 
  • Use the 70/20/10 L&D model
    We’ve previously mentioned how people’s skills are gained through a variety of methods. The 70/20/10 model states that 70% of a person’s expertise is acquired through on-the-job training, 20% through networking and social interactions and 10% through formal courses. Ensuring you develop and stretch your leaders the same way you would any employee, with all the opportunities this entails, is key to making them feel energised.  
  • Tailor development opportunities to each person
    Take time to find the right resources, networking opportunities, and on-the-job training each person could benefit from. Discuss their particular needs, strengths, and personal ambitions so you can customise your approach.  
  • Create opportunities for your leadership team to come together
    Allow them to share ideas, challenge each other, and create a strong support network.

Conclusion: Leadership development is more important than ever… but… 

While we believe that leadership is an innate quality that cannot be taught, it’s important to note that this doesn’t mean that training leaders is superfluous. In fact, leadership development is more important than ever, as current team leaders are showing signs of fatigue and even exhaustion.

But when drumming up ideas to support your leadership team, don’t stop at the existing C-Suite. When it comes to leaders, it’s about looking for potential everywhere within your organisation and trying to spot the main traits of leadership, such as EQ, passion, and care for others. Once you’ve found natural leaders, make sure you nurture these candidates and give them the tools they need to become your next rockstars.

If you would like to know how you can support your leadership team best, download our new Leadership & Management checklist.

Or have a look at our Succession Planning whitepaper to find out how to spot leaders within your organisation.

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