Dan Maxwell
March 9, 2017

Recent political events, raise the question of qualified leadership. It’s certainly not a simple discussion and the debate continues whether leaders are born or made.  However, everyone agrees we need able leaders – and that it’s a good idea to invest time and effort in their development.

leadership competencies

Nick Youngson – http://nyphotographic.com/

One way to view, measure, and evaluate leadership development is through competencies.  Here is a very practical list gathered by Miles Anthony Smith: 29 Leadership Experts Share Their Top 19 Leadership Competencies Behaviors for Success.

Another set of competencies based on personal research by Sunnie Giles, was published in Harvard Business Review: The Most Important Leadership Competencies, According to Leaders Around the World.

As he notes, the competencies aren’t surprising.

What does surprise me is his comment: “they’re all difficult to master, in part because improving them requires acting against our nature.”

Really? A leader has no natural ability on which to build competencies? Instead, their makeup hinders their development?

How can leaders possibly succeed if who they are always gets in the way of what they want to accomplish?

As you can tell, I am not convinced. Here’s why ….

Many assessment tools point to the fact everyone is hardwired to find certain behaviours “natural”. Even a basic understanding of personality traits points to inherent characteristics which influence behaviour.

natural ability

Nick Youngson – http://nyphotographic.com/

For example, delegation is “natural” for those with low detail orientation. They are motivated to look at the big picture and identify the cause. In their minds, the work is then done; they are ready to hand off the detail to others and move on to addressing the next problem. That’s their nature.

So when the author says: “many leaders struggle to let people self-organize,” it points to those with high detail orientation. Such leaders will naturally and consistently struggle with “letting go” and trusting their employees.  They will also find it difficult to develop competencies like delegating, problem-solving, and strategic planning.

Why? In that case, it is against their nature.

Unfortunately, too many leaders are hired, trained and promoted without considering natural ability.

Limiting our view to those examples, would inevitably lead us to conclude: leadership is a struggle for everyone. Fortunately, the picture is not that gloomy. Some are actually “cut out” to be leaders. They are risk takers, relationship builders, initiators and problem-solvers – by nature. As a result, they far more quickly absorb training, adopt skills, and assume the right behaviours – naturally.

To put it another way …

Some are hardwired for leadership and far more quickly master the competencies to do it well.

Are you convinced natural ability makes a difference in leadership development?

Do you have the tools required to identify those abilities?