I’ve been talking with another organization development practitioner about a company that is seeking to develop leaders by developing a program based on “leadership competencies.” To that end, the organization is spending time creating a list of desired traits and abilities, which will then be formed into a training curriculum. And yet, how do you choose what traits will be most valued? Decisive or Flexible. Intuitive or Prudent. Disciplined or Compassionate? Persistent or Creative? Confident or Humble?
Another organization is working to develop leaders by building on strengths. While I will agree that strengths are important, there is a shadow side to strengths. For example, persistence can lead to controlling others, creativity can lead to never finishing anything, or decisions based only on data can lead to unethical actions.
So how do we develop leadership? I would argue that anyone can improve their leadership abilities if they are open to feedback and learning, change and growth. I have been coaching several managers who want to become better leaders. They are learning by getting feedback from their teams and making changes in their communication patterns and other behaviors. They know their strengths, but are not defined by their strengths or their weaknesses. They are willing to bring their whole self to work: skilled and inexperienced, disciplined and compassionate, confident and vulnerable. In return, they are respected and trusted by their teams.
Yes, it is important for managers to have the skills and training to do their jobs effectively and efficiently. Yet in my observations, anyone who is willing can lead from where they stand – without regard to rank, position, or title. The most successful leaders know and accept themselves for who they are now and seek to learn and improve. They are willing to live with the paradox that seemingly opposite traits are all needed at the appropriate time and place.