Why Great Leaders Are Taught, Not Born

stevejobsLeadership is a trait sometimes attributed to genetics, appearance, networking or an extroverted personality. Yet studies of the most effective leaders point to the opposite being true. Leadership is not innate; rather, the best leaders are taught. What this means is that these leaders are continual students as well. They remain students throughout their careers, because they recognize that even the greatest leadership can always be improved. There are many ways to continue learning while leading. Some leaders choose to earn an advanced degree while others enroll in corporate training classes. Other leaders seek out influential mentors to guide them. The best approach will incorporate all of these learning methods.

Going From Good to Great

In his book “Good to Great,” author Jim Collins released results from an international study of more than 1,400 companies. His research team’s goal was to identify the “secret formula” that helped a select few companies from this group transition from good to great results. Just 11 companies fit the team’s criteria for achieving sustained greatness over a 15-year period.  Collins’s team discovered that each of the 11 had a nontraditional leader at its helm. Individuals outside of the company often failed to recognize the CEO’s name, yet the company and its leader’s effectiveness were globally recognized. Collins concluded that the leaders who guided their companies from good to great had two qualities in common: personal humility and professional will.

Leadership 101

Collins’s study indicated that the greatest leaders cultivate commitment to organizational good over personal visibility. The company itself is the “star,” and the CEO is simply its chief facilitator. Great CEOs stay out of the limelight unless public appearances contribute to the company’s greater good. They view themselves as teachers, training and mentoring the next generation of the company’s leaders. Rather than hiring a publicity team to keep their name known, these leaders recognize that when the company succeeds, the public will naturally find out. As well, many are sometimes shy and prefer to avoid the limelight even when it comes to them. The “arrogance” sometimes attributed to CEOs is seen for what it really is — sheer force of will. The CEOs for each of Collins’s 11 great companies were viewed from within as unstoppable forces, as they worked to accomplish their company-wide goals.

The Importance of Education

Great leaders understand the importance of education. They seek to know what happened before they arrived on the scene and then use that knowledge to avoid others’ errors. Many return to the top 10 business schools where the latest management and leadership practices are taught. Because today’s marketplace is global, the best leaders also seek out classes that attract international business and thought leaders.

The Four Traits of Great Leaders

Inc. magazine recently published an article on what it deemed the four traits of great leaders. The traits cited were: to aspire, to inspire, to plan and to execute. Each trait contributes to a leader’s overall greatness. The leader who can simultaneously achieve all four traits and capitalize on the synergy between them has the greatest potential. The latter three — inspiring, planning and executing — involve skills that can be taught. What this means is that if you aspire to be a great leader, you can learn everything else you need to know to achieve your greatest aspirations.

You as a Great Leader

Great leadership is simple: Be willing to remain a lifelong student, seek out the best international minds for collaboration and idea sharing, place your organization ahead of your personal visibility and continue to aspire to greater success. That way, you will achieve your full leadership potential.

Image from Flickr’s Creative Commons

 About the Author: Conrad Nessi is a business consultant who has worked with several notable companies in both Europe and North America throughout his career.



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