I had to do lots of research and experimentation over the last month. I performed many interviews, got many insights and suggestions, and developed and redeveloped the modules I am teaching, and finally, I developed and administered a leadership seminar. I was surprised at the amount of stuff I had to wade through! Everything from, “If you want to lead, go to the front and start marching!” to “If you want to lead, start in the back and start pushing!” The main idea that came up over and over is that to test your leadership, turn around. If you are by yourself, you’re just taking a walk.
Why do people want to study leadership? There are no definitive processes or practices or philosophies where if you do this then that happens. Most are: if you do this, that MIGHT happen, or not… It is a nebulous study at best. But there are business leadership books and church leadership books, and organizational leadership books, and countless seminars, and videos and cd’s you listen to in your car. The value of leadership is in the results you want to get. Do you want more members? Do you want better productivity? Do you want a promotion? All these require leadership skills, and as John Maxwell says, skills can be learned. The doctor doesn’t deliver the baby and say, “Look! It’s a boy AND a leader!”
So is Leadership an instinct? There are a lot of pseudo-instinctual aspects to leadership, but many human instincts are developed by practice. Shooting a basket is a good example. You run to a particular spot on the floor, leap up and shoot and it goes in. You do that by yourself at first, but when in the game, you run to the spot and your peripheral vision tells you everyone is running the wrong way, and you time your jump and it goes in at the buzzer. The crowd goes wild! You think it was instinctual, but it was actually a series of observations and decisions made in a very very short time. Instinct is what gets the calf to stand up after it’s born. Instinct is what moves the birds to begin flying south. Instinct is what helps a newborn baby suckle. Instinct is not what gets the basket at the buzzer. Leading by instinct is not a good plan, because your “instincts” may be developed under different circumstances. Most people assume that their leaders are gifted or have an extra leadership gene that is not available to the general public. This is why rich and powerful people run for office, they believe they have this gene. The general public also believes they have this gene because of the preponderance of evidence…they have succeeded in making money and they have led people. A software company gets a new CEO who has no experience in project management. He decides to cut staff to make it more efficient and the effect is it brings down the income because they charge by the job and they can’t do as many jobs with fewer people. His instincts did not apply to this particular circumstance. Is he a bad leader? In this instance, yes. Leadership qualities and characteristics transcend different circumstances, but skills may not translate.
My point is this: Skills can be learned, but they do not change the person you are. A leader must have the personal characteristics that invite people to follow them and the qualities, as a person, to keep their followers throughout the process.