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Leadership is demonstrated - not measured

Bradley de Souza | Oct. 23, 2014
Bradley de Souza calls for an end to the current 'leadership by numbers' obsession - and why failing a leadership exam isn’t always the worst outcome.

Not age dependent

It's often a misconception that leadership is a function of age. In my experience leadership is akin to wisdom, which can be summed up as the difference between knowledge and experience. Wisdom can be attained by gaining experience in a compressed time frame. Soldiers in the theatre of battle acquire a lot of experience in a much-reduced timeline. This exposure drives combat tactics (wisdom) and forces the survival instinct to tie into the military training (knowledge), thereby resulting in a wise, alert and capable soldier.

The same kinds of compressed experiential exposure develop leadership skills in the young. Scout programs, team sports, and other group activities tend to develop leaders either by design or by accident. We live in an age where US President, Barrack Obama, was 47 when inaugurated, a mere teenager by any other definition.

Support

Leadership isn't a solo activity. Most leaders are supported by great people who help them deal with the problems we all face. Self doubt, uncertainty, emotional challenges, even well disguised character flaws can all be managed by those who stand by those who lead.

In summary, leadership is demonstrated and not measured. In my opinion leadership is an ineffable quality which cannot be distilled, analysed, deconstructed and then injected or programmed into those who don't possess this quality innately.

The ordinary workplace can be dysfunctional when it comes to the identification and development of leaders. Instead of focussing on the bulk development of people to become leaders, let us put in place systems through which potential leaders can be identified and then developed. This should be the focus area for all organisations, recognising once and for all that not all are born to lead.

Top three leadership traits
All leaders have different traits which help define them. Some traits are more obvious than others but for me these three are the more important ones:

Change agents
All great leaders bring about change in one shape or another. Leading through change is the greatest challenge of all. Change can be forced upon those in authority or it can be instigated by the very same people. Either way, bringing people on a journey of change takes great skill, dedication, empathy and courage.

Change is the one thing that most of us resist. It forces us to expend energy which evolution has taught us to conserve zealously. Our primeval selves survived by conserving energy in a calorie-constrained environment. Great leaders and most successful people constantly tussle with these primeval traits and eventually overcome our inherent drawbacks.

Risk taking
Leadership often involves challenging the status quo and by definition, taking risks. It's incumbent on good leaders to take calculated risks in order to secure the ongoing development and prosperity of those they are charged with.

 

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