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Can I really develop my leadership?

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Can I really develop my leadership?

In a recent coaching session, my coachee said that the programme had helped him to think about leadership in a different light.  He now saw it as more of a ‘dynamic’ than a unique gift.  He said that he now had a framework for his new thoughts about leadership which related it to the dynamics of human interaction. 

I have heard this type of comment often as part of my leadership development and coaching practice, usually from coachees who are about to make a big step on their leadership development journey.  It is a reflection of their recognising that leadership skills can be developed, moving themselves forward from the disempowering belief that leadership is some kind of personality trait that people are born with. 

My passion for developing leadership grew from my realising that I would try to run through a brick wall for some people who had led me in the past while some others seemed to find it hard work to motivate me to walk across the room!  It was obvious from personal experience and subsequently confirmed by research that different followers react quite differently to different leaders.  It also seems self evident to me that any person who is cast in a leadership position (whether as a result of his or her own pro-activity or by the action of others) can become more effective.  While there are certainly some personality dimensions that can influence a person’s effectiveness, it is possible for a leader to gear his or her style to the nature of the task and the characteristics of the people involved in a way which both improves performance and develops more effective relationships with colleagues.

I often find myself working with talented professionals who are reaching a stage where improving their leadership abilities is becoming a necessary next step in career development.  As an example, I often find myself coaching doctors for whom the next step is to qualify as a consultant. 

I’m going to end this blog with a quote from one such coachee who has now for some years been a consultant in adult psychiatry.  He said that “seeing leadership as a task allows me to make professional decisions about working effectively with people, rather than seeing it as a function of my personality.   This means that I have found it much less of an emotional drain.  It has helped me to close the gap between leadership theory and how to make it work in my role”.

I fundamentally believe that sometimes it is appropriate to lead from the front, sometimes by example, sometimes by influence and sometimes simply by getting out of the way so that others can succeed.  The thing which marks out the most effective leaders is their ability to develop more effective relationships through their judgement about when to apply different styles.  I would be keen to hear others’ experience in the comments below about whether this judgement can be developed and improved.

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