Leadership takes many forms. Some would say that this is because leaders are those who naturally stand out by reason of their advanced mastery of interpersonal skills and the traits that make them desirable to others. On the other hand, a great many leaders throughout history could only maintain their hold on the people around them through negative reinforcement.
The varied nature of leadership, independent of time, place and situation, begs the question: Is leadership taught by those who have led others in the past, or is it simply developed as a necessary survival skill in response to the situation?
To understand the origins of leadership, we have to consider a few factors:
How was someone recognized as a leader? What makes us look to them?
What were the results of a particular individual’s leadership?
Did the training leaders obtain have anything to do with the results their leadership produced?
In extreme situations, such as wars or disasters, leaders seem to come out of the wood-works. These battle-field-commission officers and enlisted standouts distinguish themselves because of their skills in situations that require much of them. In such cases, we can definitely say that the leadership displayed in the face of seemingly hopeless odds was clearly nurtured by the circumstances, which were far beyond anything they could have imagined in training.
On the other hand, many of our political and business leaders inherit their positions, or at least the finances they needed to advertise their eligibility for them. While there are some whose experiences nurture a sense of responsibility in them, a great many are brought into their leadership roles through nepotism or even plain coincidence. In these cases, however, we cannot overlook the fact that the only way these individuals are able to maintain their posts is because they were taught a certain set of leadership skills by those who held them previously.
These differences don’t necessarily make one type of leader better than another, they simply result in the highly varied skill sets that all leaders possess. Leadership is a vague quality, one that we can only accurately judge after seeing the results of someone’s actions. Did your business plan succeed? Could a merger have been more successful? Questions like these only come into clarity after the fact, meaning that even well-trained leaders eventually have to think outside the box in response to how things play out.
Connecting Training and Nurturing
Further complicating the issue is the fact that it’s hard to judge the results of training. For instance, a new manager might experience great successes in finishing a huge IT project under budget, but their management training might have nothing to do with it. Perhaps in this case, their gradually developed ability to assist their programmers’ data gathering efforts and keep stress levels low were what clenched their success.
Leadership is far too complex to be simplified to just training or nurturing. In short, some leadership skills are passed on, while others are developed under pressure. Training our new leaders to apply their knowledge is just as important as letting them go and try it out on their own.
About The Author:
Tom writes on behalf of DLProg who addresses an important gap in international thinking and policy about the critical role played by leaders, elites and coalitions in the politics of development.