I’m often asked whether people are born leaders or if leadership can be taught and developed. While some people are natural-born leaders, I believe leadership can be taught.
When I speak with audiences, I often ask, “How many of you are leaders?” Hardly anyone puts a hand up because many people think leadership is about having a position of authority. Then I ask who has had the most influence in their lives. Usually they talk about family members or close friends. Rarely do they talk about leaders in positions of authority at work.
Why does a mother, father or close family friend often have the most impact on a person’s life? It’s because leadership is an influence process. Anytime people attempt to influence the thinking, beliefs or development of others, they are leading. That’s why it’s so important to recognize that everyone — from the seasoned CEO to the new hire — can benefit from leadership development.
Leadership is not something you do to people; it’s something you do with them. As a manager or an individual contributor, your ability to lead depends more on the quality of your relationships than on your positional power. By effectively relating to people over time, you are leading. Whether you’re a manager who wants to influence your direct report or vice versa, you need to learn how to communicate with that person in a way that creates positive results. That’s leadership.
I’m glad more organizations are appointing chief learning officers because the word learning implies a behavioral change. CLOs play a vital role in aligning behavior with the organization’s business objectives. Once you understand that anyone can be a leader and that leadership is an influence process, your leadership development program can really come to life. Here are some ideas to get started.
Involve CEOs as models for leadership development. If CEOs want to see positive results, they need to get involved in their organizations’ leadership development strategy. When people see that the CEO applies and practices the encouraged behaviors, they understand that these behaviors are tied to the business strategy.
Mix it up. Make the most of the generational mix in your workforce. By including people of all ages in training, you’ll enrich the learning experience. Different generations have much to teach each other.
Train people with their teams. Too often people are taken away from their teams to receive training. People go off, learn new things and come back to their workplaces all fired up. The problem is, the other team members didn’t share the experience and can’t support that enthusiasm. By training people together, you reap the benefits of synergy and shared excitement.
Consider the organizational context of the people you’re training. How do the people in your organization make contact with each other? Do they see each other face-to-face every day, or do they mostly interact by phone, email or text message? Design learning to match the methods people use to work together. If they are primarily working virtually, learning needs to be adapted to that context.
Use technology to teach content. In the past, trainers spent too much face time teaching content. With the advent of new technology, they can teach before bringing people together. This leaves more face-to-face time to focus on applying the content, practicing new skills and answering questions. After people leave the training event, technology can help reinforce the learning.
Focus on behavior change. Too often companies spend too much time finding and peddling the hot new management concept. But how many diets do you need to lose weight?
Only one if you stick to it. How many leadership programs do you need to make a positive difference in your organization? Only one if you stick to it.
Leaders are sometimes born, but they can be developed. By designing learning experiences to develop leaders throughout your organization, you’ll unleash the power and potential of your people and make the organization’s business objectives that much easier to attain.
Ken Blanchard is a best-selling author, speaker and chief spiritual officer of The Ken Blanchard Companies. He can be reached at editor@CLOmedia.com.
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