Good Leaders: Nature or Nurture

blog post by Stev Stegner

Many people can develop into good leaders as long as their surroundings encourage leadership. Some people believe that leadership comes easier to intelligent people, this is not the case. Good leaders need to be able to have an above average aptitude for understanding people and knowing how to get what they want.  As a matter of fact, the people with the highest IQs are less likely to be in leadership roles. Individuals with higher IQ’s tend to be quirky and do not make great leaders.

Great leaders develop over time as they craft their skills at different levels of the organization. People skills are perhaps the best indicator of those in your organization who are ready to be groomed for a leadership path. Developing great leaders within your organization should be one of the highest priorities; as you bring your organization to the next level.
When the company is small and the management team is all working toward the same goals, it can feel as the business runs itself. Be wary of this false sense of security. If there is one certainty in business, it is change. Most of the changes happen gradually and there is little evidence of the changes from day to day.  When the leadership in the company is stable, the company is stable.

Businesses do not operate in a vacuum, people are involved, they have emotions and often good leaders need to corral their people and give attention to those who need it, when they need it. This might sound a bit too touchy feely, but I can assure you: making sure your employees are happy and content will pay huge dividends.  A happy employee is a productive employee. 

Just as a manager needs to be looking over their people and creating a safe and encouraging environment, great leaders are doing the same for their managers.  Great leaders give their mangers the tools they need to be successful. These tools include money to hire the best talent, assets so everyone on the team can produce at the highest level and the ability/latitude to make decisions.

Once in a while a great leader will be the simply born to lead, more often than not, leaders are created and mentored. Think of the family birth order; often the first born tends to have strong leadership skills. They often boss around their younger sibling(s). These same children will often take on that same role in elementary school through high school. This does not make them good leaders, just leaders. In order to develop into good leaders, they need empathy, a sense of fairness, need to inspire others, resolve conflicts and they must have the desire to lead.

Here are 7 Characteristics of a good leader:

Communication skills - Ability to influence others - Empathy - Integrity - Courage - Gratitude - Lifelong learner

Notice passion was not on the list. Many leaders are passionate and there is a place for passion and enthusiasm, however, with passion sometimes comes emotional highs and lows. I know I want passionate leaders as long as they can control their emotional lows. Generally, you cannot have it both ways. Many great innovators of our time are not well regarded as good leaders because their passions override their ability to get along with co-workers. The late Steve Jobs at Apple or Elon Musk from Tesla and SpaceX come to mind. Both have/had tremendous passion but lacked people skills. For the record, I think both Apple and Tesla have cutting edge products and both companies/leaders have changed the world for the better.

Developing good leaders starts with small defined steps: Promoting someone who has most of the seven characteristics listed above into a management position. Setting them up to succeed by giving them a team who is already functioning at a high level and giving them clear direction and set clear expectations.  The first few months are the most critical in their new role. Spend the time to shepherd them, give encouragement where warranted and correction where needed. In most of our businesses, there are a dozen ways to do things right. Give the new manager the latitude to make a couple mistakes and learn from those.  We all make mistakes.  

Resist your inclination to create a mini-me (mini-you). Of course, my world would be grand if everyone thought like me. Your goal is for them to use their experiences and people skills to connect with their team and lead them to accomplish the team/company goals as efficiently as possible. The whole reason to groom a manager is so that in the very near future, you can trust they know what the company goals are and have their team all rowing in the same direction.  After all, it should be the goal of a great leader to only need to worry about the managers whom report to them. All businesses are different, but ideally, each manager should only have six to eight people reporting to them. Each business is different, so the rule is fairly loose.  A manager can manage more people if the systems in place are repetitive and narrowly defined skillsets are involved.

Be less concerned about the number of subordinates and more concerned about the effectiveness of the manager. A manager should be promoted as often as they are willing and have the aptitude, regardless of their tenure in that position. Allowing good leaders to rise through the ranks is critical to keeping them focused on the company goals. 

Expect your leaders to be lifelong learners. It has never been easier to be a lifelong learner. Reading/listening to books, seminars, webinars, online training is all at our fingertips. Charlie Jones said “Five years from now, you will be the same person you are today, except for the books you read and the people you meet.”  

Now go out, meet new people, read some books and become the best version on yourself.

Stev Stegner, MBA