Why can’t I be a great leader?

Well you can! When I was asked to validate a top end, (by which I mean expensive) management-training programme I was told to sit quietly at the back and evaluate. No problem. So the trainer said: “OK who are the great leaders in history?” After a brainstorm the delegates all decide that “Winston Churchill and Richard Branson” top the list. Then the trainer asks: “So what are the attributes that made them great?” Next brainstorm of attributes, plucked from the air, such as “inspirational,” “humble,” “great orator,” “rule-breaker,” etc, etc. Then the ultimate in stupid questions: “How can we get those attributes?” Well I can’t take any more, so I jump up and say:

We can’t: it’s not possible or desirable. The Latin root of the word ‘education’ is ‘e-ducato,’ which means ‘leading out.’ So rather than fill your head with someone else’s nonsense or trying to be like that person over there, bring out the best leader in you.

You see we are all OK, with all our little foibles and idiosyncrasies, trying to do our best. Sure we can be better, but we need to become better versions of ourselves and not try to be like someone else: we would do that so badly as it would not come naturally to us. Management training course tend not to lead to better performing managers. Training is a passive term, ie something that is done to us. The active term is development, which occurs after training (or indeed in most cases without it). Development is working on something day after day, getting feedback, learning from mistakes seeing how other people do (and don’t do) things and assessing if that can help us.

So can you be a great leader? Yes! Will you achieve that through attending courses or trying to be like him or her? Probably not! Development is more subtle than that and starts with you: not him or her!

Photo credit: 12F102 Lion 103 at Taronga Zoo Sydney by Kieran Palmer

Summary
Why can’t I be a great leader?
So can you be a great leader? Yes! Will you achieve that through attending courses or trying to be like him or her? Probably not! Development is more subtle than that and starts with you: not him or her!
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