Glowny Building at Warsaw University

Glowny Building at Warsaw University

Warsaw University of Economics, Warsaw, Poland

Great programme in Warsaw last week….active participation and challenges…good ideas…high energy and interest.  My thanks to Grzegorz Augustyniak for making all the arrangements.

Have a look at the Participant Feedback tab (above) to see the results.

This is a picture of the main building of the business school at Warsaw University of Economics.

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As is often the case, last week the question was asked about whether or not leadership skills are born or bred.  There seems to be this fundamental belief that leadership is a talent with which you are born.

I could not disagree more.  In my opinion, everything you need to know to be a good leader can be learned.  Though I would say that there are personal characteristics that can make one person more effective than another, I would also argue that any one of those attributes can also be learned, or at least imitated.

It is generally at this point that someone mentions “charisma” as a key leadership skill that some have and some do not…and, it certainly CANNOT be learned.  I always love this discussion!

A few points about charisma…

I have never heard a person say that charisma was the main skill they relied upon to successfully lead a company…EVER!

  • First, I have worked for people who had little, if any, “charisma” and yet were superb leaders.
  • Second, I have worked for people who had tremendous “charisma” but were terrible leaders.
  • Finally, if you look at the definition of “charisma”, you will see that most of the elements which define it are skills that can be learned or developed…or even simply imitated.  The dictionary describes charisma as “a trait found in persons with a facile personality, characterized by powerfully sophisticated abilities of interpersonal communication and persuasion. One who is charismatic is said to be capable of using their personal being, rather than just speech or logic alone, to interface with other human beings in a personal and direct manner, and effectively communicate an argument or concept to them.”

Look at the “skills” listed in that definition…communication, persuasion, speech, logic, direct manner, empathy.  All can be learned.  Even the phrase “their personal being”, which seems to imply an innate style or personality, can be argued to be a learnable skill.  For my detailed discussion on charisma have a look at this post… http://www.scottneilson.com/?p=902

Bottom line…I see “charisma” as a “nice to have”…not an “essential”.

  • I think that it is one element of many that CAN help make a person an effective leader.
  • I think it can make a good leader a great leader, but it is not a requirement to be either.
  • I think that without any other skills, “charisma” alone will not make a person a successful leader.

So, back to the original question…are leaders born or bred?  If you look through the literature on leadership you will find that most of the books are listings of skills which have worked for someone at some point in time or some situation.  Any one of those skills can be learned or developed.

As an example, in various data gathering activities which I have conducted over the years, the lists of skills generated seem to be very much the same from one group to the next.  They include such things as …

  • Listening
  • Communications (spoken and written)
  • Decision-making
  • Strategic Thinking
  • Humility
  • Being responsible
  • Being reliable
  • Being flexible
  • Being able to integrate (synthesize)
  • Being adaptable
  • Being organized
  • Being analytical
  • Being creative
  • Being collaborative
  • Being empathetic
  • Having self-confidence
  • Having integrity
  • Having drive and determination
  • Time management
  • Setting priorities
  • Handling pressure
  • Coaching
  • Honesty

There is nothing in these list of skills or personal attributes that cannot be learned or accomplished through good process.

To my way of thinking, the bigger issue is Why are companies not good at developing leadership skills in their people?  Subject for next week…