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Sorry, no crash courses in leadership

by on
in Best-Practices Leadership,Leaders & Managers,Leadership Skills

Plato said he’d need 50 years to train a leader, but his student Aristotle said he could do it in two years…and his student was Alexander the Great.

So, can leadership be taught?

Jay Conger, executive director of the University of Southern California’s Leadership Institute, had his doubts. He embarked on a two-year study to find out.

Conger decided that it takes dogged persistence to become a leader, not a joy ride down the rapids, as some programs would have you believe. He breaks down leadership training into four components:
  1. Personal growth. The basic idea: “If you can jump off this cliff, imagine what you can do back at the office.” This piece is most useful for those lucky few with some kind of job security, so they can learn to push boundaries. That, after all, is what leaders do: challenge the status quo, take risks and mobilize followers.

  2. Skill-building. The beauty of this approach is its practical lessons. For instance, if three volunteers offer to lead separate groups, one may learn that she needs to involve her group in strategizing so they don’t become bored and angry.

  3. Feedback. If 30 people rate you as a leader and all 30 say you don’t listen well, that should tell you something. The fact is, none of us can fully see ourselves. But with feedback, we can modify our behavior.

    Remember, though, that if you come away with three areas needing improvement, you’ll be drawn to the one that’s easiest to implement, not necessarily the most important.

  4. Conceptual awareness. This just means learning the concepts that separate leaders from bosses: such as caring about employees, setting high standards and customizing rewards. They’re important but, alone, they’re not enough.
Leadership training also requires practice at work and commitment from top to bottom. Avoid one-shot programs by bringing in coaches who’ll keep you and other trainees on track. Involve as many people as you can, and be patient. There are no silver bullets.

—Adapted from “Can We Really Train Leadership?” Jay Conger, strategy + business.

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