By Catherine Jacquet, Project Director Leadership, Management & CSR at Cegos
How to drive your people to become leaders? Maybe they already have all the cards in their hands, but their preconceived notions are blocking them. When it comes to leadership, some beliefs are insidious, persistent and frozen in time. Let’s take a close look at them to unleash some leadership potential within your teams.
1- “Leadership is innate”
Innate or learned: this is a big question. The literature shows that interest in leadership has existed at least since ancient times. However, the first scientific research on the subject dates back only a few decades. Let’s be clear: there is no scientific consensus to date on whether leadership is natural or contextual. Avoid those who claim that leadership is 100% innate, or on the contrary 100% acquired.
Studies tend to show that certain characteristics may predispose to leadership. But they do not predict whether a particular person will become a leader. So, whatever the character, whatever the faults and qualities, anybody can do it! As a mentor for leaders, they should be encouraged to work on themselves. Develop their skills. Take every opportunity to apply what they have learned. It is this work that may one day allow them to be seen as a leader.
2- “Leadership is a position”
Being a manager, does not necessarily mean being a leader.
A manager is a role in the hierarchy. The manager is the one who will give the framework, respect the framework and make the framework respected. It is a question of process and discipline.
The leader always has in mind the performance issues of the organisation they work for. A leader is responsible and knows how to set an example and be disciplined, being able to define a vision and share it very clearly. But leaders break the mould if they think the organisation has something to gain. They dare to take risks; they go outside the box and lead others outside the box. It is this mixture of discipline and entrepreneurship that makes leaders inspiring. To learn more about this theme, I invite you to read the book “Good to great” by Jim Collins: it gives a clear and dispassionate view of the difference between a manager and a leader. And above all, he offers a vision that I think is excellent of the ideal leader, the so-called level 5 leader, who is humble, but highly effective and efficient.
Often, team members, who are not in a managerial position, may already be recognised as a leader.
Leadership is demonstrated in situations, in action. Regardless of the position in the organisation, the leadership can be perceived by those around because of the posture adopted when faced with problems, the fairness in dealing with differences, the strength in resisting pressure or the ability to innovate by involving people without seeking personal gain… These are all conditions that will make one be recognised as a leader! And another belief to break down: being the head of an organisation, or business unit, is no guarantee to be perceived as a leader by others.
3- “The organisation prevents their people from becoming leaders”
Some organisations are still very pyramidal, with hierarchy dominating. These organisations are sometimes inclined to prevent the emergence of leaders, because they are afraid of them. How do they do this? By controlling and validating all the actions of their people, by rejecting any idea for improvement if it comes from their people, by refusing access to certain training courses, etc. This business (literally and figuratively) is doomed to fail.
An organisation may put obstacles in the way. It can make the job more difficult. But it cannot stop people from working on themselves. So, it cannot stop any team member from developing their leadership ability, if that is what they want.
By allowing people to reflect on their path, by helping to identify and strengthen the potential of each individual, organisations can facilitate the emergence of new leaders. Retaining these talents, guiding them towards their ‘revelation’ as a leader, is an incredible strength for organisations competing in the war for talent. Without this release of energy, it is likely that potential leaders will develop their skills, their uniqueness and their career path…elsewhere rather than with your organisation.
4- “They need to fit the leadership model”
No, there is no definitive model of leadership. There are as many models as there are leaders. You cannot model or institutionalise something that is unique. “A management that wants to develop leadership in its organisation should rather leave room for difference. The organisation must allow everyone to be themselves at work”, our expert recommends.
Leadership development is an invitation to discover what makes everyone unique.
5- “There can only be one leader in a group”
The general belief is that a leader is the owner of a specific territory where they would exercise authority or even omnipotence. But leadership can be shared, especially if we separate it from the notion of management. A leader can be a young activist who gets the company moving by proposing an innovative idea that no one saw coming, but that a whole age group was impatiently waiting for. One’s leadership may complement the leadership of the person who gives the means to express, test and launch one’s idea, fighting for it without seeking to recover. A manager may have to manage several leadership profiles in the team without being discredited: if the manager knows how to use these strengths, they can team up and multiply the chances of success on projects, on the federation of teams. It is certainly difficult to manage on a daily basis, but with a little managerial innovation, they will do very well!
Another question arises in this search for leadership development at all costs: should everyone become a leader? No, not at all. Organisations must allow everyone to develop by being themselves at work. And they must also accept that some people do not want to take the leadership role at work. There is no need to force these people, even if they are seen to have serious and strong potential. Some people like to stay in the background. Some want to stay in their comfort zone. Some prefer to reveal their leadership outside of work, for example in a sporting or cultural activity, or in an association mission. So, to develop the leadership, people must first want to: leadership is, after all, a personal choice.
6- “They have to be caring enough to be a leader”
A caring leader is a leader who is loved and fair. It is therefore an essential quality, but the injunction to caring is sometimes excessive today, and if it is mistaken for the notion of compassion, I believe that it is necessary to know how to measure it correctly.
According to the Dictionary, caring is a “favourable disposition towards someone”. If this disposition towards others is not natural but responds to an injunction to be happy at work, it risks producing the opposite effect by generating mistrust, or even limiting our judgement and sincere exchanges. We must not forget that caring is a wonderful natural ability that we must also learn to regulate in order to remain firm in critical situations. Caring is not weak or mawkish but fair and open to difference.
A leader must be able to put aside their own judgement to identify their own paradoxes and representations, and help those around them to do the same. Leaders need to recognise the uniqueness of the other person on their way to the top of the organisation. You can train people, and they can learn, to improve interactions. But to profoundly change a person’s nature is another story. A charismatic leader is often someone who knows how to create real, unique relationships with everyone. Does this mean being caring? It’s hard to know.
7- “You doubt whether they have the abilities” or “It’s too late for them”
Do you think some people can’t get into leadership because they didn’t get the right education? Because they are at the end of their career? Because they’re young? Because of their gender?… Response is evident, right? However, these automatic beliefs appear often in many people, still.
If a team member has any doubts, these doubts can be a good starting point to get on the road to leadership. Indeed, the basic foundation of leadership is personal development and self-knowledge. “Everything you have done, experienced, everything you are, can become a force for releasing the potential and making a person a leader… despite themselves!
Cegos can help you drive leadership within your organisation. Our Leader of the Future breakthrough programme helps organisations develop leaders fit for the future. It is an immersive international program – delivered online – that brings together leaders from all over Europe to learn, experiment, and share experiences.
Get in touch to discuss how to transform your people into tomorrow’s powerful leaders.