When I was in the NAVY we had to take all kinds of classes on leadership in order to move up through the ranks. Of course this was done solely under the assumption that leaders could be taught how to lead. I’ve often questioned this. If that were true then why were there those times I would question myself if punching this person ranked above me would be worth the trouble I would get into for it? I got to admit sometimes it was very close.
They would teach things like lead by example, or reprimand only in private, and of course give praise in public. These were the basics of leadership training. but by learning these basics and actually applying them did this make you a leader?
To be fare the military requires a hierarchical structure and being all volunteer they have to work with what they get. Also know that no matter the leadership provided the job gets done. The leadership does not hinder the accomplishment of the work, but it does affect the people who do it. Many of hated leaders managed to bring us to victory. Some would say that’s all that matters and to some point it’s true.
This is also true of most corporate structures. However they have the ability to choose who will lead / manage people. The two problems I have witnessed is who is doing the choosing and why they are being chosen. Lots of factors go into this. Some examples would be: Is the person doing the choosing a good leader him or herself? Are the people they are choosing friends of theirs? Are they family? Everyone loves a little nepotism. Is the person even familiar with the business? Do they have documented leadership results? There are so many more.
What is lacking for the most part except on rare occasions is just asking the people who have worked under them what they thought of them as a leader. This would tell all. The company I worked for tried this at one time but it always seemed that nothing would come of it. Many would speak their thoughts only to find it did not make any changes. I also believe many didn’t speak their true thoughts for fear of it coming back on them someday.
We can see that leaders are not necessarily good at it and that the idea of being taught to be a good leader is kind of a pipe dream. So that brings us to natural leaders. What is a natural leader and how do you recognize one?
I believe I may have discovered at least part of the answer the other night. I was on a dinner cruise for a date. I had the best time. My date was awesome and let’s just say I had the best ribeye steak I’ve had in years. After dinner we went up on deck for drinks and to see the sites in Tampa. They had a DJ playing modern dance music there. I almost felt bad for this man. He was doing what DJs do. Telling everybody to get up and dance to the music he was playing, but sadly nothing. No one would dance.
About fifteen minutes later a young twenty something woman came upstairs and as soon as she walked in went right for the dance floor and started dancing by herself. She did this for about 10 minutes and then someone else went on the floor with her. After that more and more people joined. within a short period of time she had about thirty people on the floor dancing with her. I myself might have joined but I was witnessing my date trying to convince the captain to let her drive the ship. He did! That might be my next blog on the power of asking.
Let’s not take what this woman did lightly. You may say you have seen the same thing before. True but did you analyze it? I’m pretty much a people watcher. I observe the things they do and how they affect themselves and others around them. In this case this woman got thirty people to follow her lead without saying one word. Not a single word. She did not get up on a soapbox and say, “Come on everyone let’s do this”! Which is exactly what the DJ was trying to do. No she just started dancing.
You could say she was leading by example which is what is taught to everyone. Yes but I feel there was much more to it. I did not interview her because I was on a date and wanted to focus on her. If I had I think she would have probably said she didn’t realize that she was being a leader and that she just wanted to dance.
That is the natural part. It’s been my experience that good leaders don’t even acknowledge they are. It’s instinctual. They tend to throw themselves into the task with passion and people gravitate to it. They want to follow that person. A good leader doesn’t have to ask or tell anyone to do something. Their people ask them what can I do to help?
The other important trait that good leaders have is empathy. In the case of this woman, If I had had asked her, probably would have said she felt everyone there wanted to dance but just didn’t want to be the first. She would most likely be right. But that’s what made her different. She stepped up without any care of how it would look, or what people thought of it. She showed pure courage. Not like under fire in Afghanistan but courage within society. That’s what drew people to join her.
The last manager I had at the company I worked for was what I would call a great leader. He displayed the courage by fighting for his people. He had empathy for his people. He would instinctively know if something was wrong and even though it might not have been anything he has had to deal with personally, he knew what you needed to get through it. He was such a good leader that when he laid me off I actually felt bad for him. I knew that having to do this with his people was gut wrenching for him. How many people can say they felt bad for the person that fired them?
It’s my opinion that yes you can teach leadership but to be a good or great leader will take a change within yourself. Just following the steps in any course and getting the certificate is not going to cut it. He or she has to understand what courage is in all it’s forms and you have to learn empathy to it’s depths. You will know you are a good leader when you don’t have to ask or tell your people what to do. They will ask you what can we do?
Leave a comment on your thoughts of what a leader is to you.
P.S. If you are interested in being coached by me or just to learn what a coach can do for you please email me: John@VillageWisdomCoaching.com