While some people may be natural born leaders, new evidence suggests that leadership is a skill that can be learned. In a 15-week course, college students reported significant gains in three key components of leadership:
1. Ability to lead
2. Skills to lead
3. Motivation to lead
The course directors believe the most effective way to build leadership is to recognize that leadership does not occur in a vacuum and that cultivating connections to others matters most:
The definition we use in the course is that leadership is an individual influencing a group of people toward a common goal. So how do you influence people? You can lead through your interactions, your relationships, your communication, the way you express thanks, your ethics.
Dr. Heidi Grant Halvorson, of Columbia Business School and the Neuroleadership Institute, researches how to build leadership skills. While she recognizes the importance of confidence and emotional intelligence, she argues that trustworthiness is the most important skill of all:
When your team trusts you as a leader, it increases commitment to team goals. Communication improves, and ideas flow more freely, increasing creativity and productivity. Perhaps most important, in the hands of a trusted leader, employees are more comfortable with change and more willing to embrace a new vision. When your team doesn’t trust you, you don’t get their best effort. You’ll then find yourself unable to inspire, influence, and create real change—an ineffective leader.
Whether you are on the playing field or in the boardroom, acting with your team’s best interest in mind is at the core of trustworthiness. The following three strategies can help build your trust quotient:
Listen, look and genuinely connect with your team. Show interest, express curiosity, and ask people questions. Be outwardly focused. Leaders overly occupied with their own brilliance miss out on the free and creative exchange of information and ideas. As highlighted in How Google Works, Google is a democracy and employees at all strata have a significant voice that is heard.
Trust in Return:
Trust is predicated on reciprocity. For someone to trust you, you must trust them. There is a reason that people love working at Google. The core of their method is the empowering of employees. Google employees have a great degree of autonomy and significant control over their time. Google believes in and invests in them.
Embrace Empathy and Humility:
It’s not just about putting yourself in your team’s shoes. Rather, ask yourself, “How does it feel to be them in their shoes?” Admitting mistakes, spotlighting other’s strengths, and being open to new ideas builds credibility and trust.
An article in the Economist suggests an unconventional way to build leadership skills: study great writers. Instead of going on “outward bound” style bonding retreats, Schumpeter recommends “inward bound” courses. He writes:
The only way to become a real thought leader is to ignore all this noise and listen to a few great thinkers. You will learn far more about leadership from reading Thucydides’s hymn to Pericles than you will from a thousand leadership experts. You will learn far more about doing business in China from reading Confucius than by listening to “culture consultants”. Peter Drucker remained top dog among management gurus for 50 years not because he attended more conferences but because he marinated his mind in great books: for example, he wrote about business alliances with reference to marriage alliances in Jane Austen.
Any mention of Jane Austen is enough to convince me.
Leaders become great, not because of their power, but because of their ability to empower others. – John Maxwell