Management Letter Featured

10:00am EDT July 22, 2002
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Quite often, you hear comments that certain people are ""born"" leaders-the implication being that a true leader must be born with an innate talent that separates him or her from the masses of people who aren't destined to direct the efforts of others. Having seen any number of people rise to the status of leader through sheer grit, determination and hard work, I must take issue with this notion.

Someone once said it was attitude more than aptitude that ultimately determines a person's altitude. Good leadership begets good leadership.

Here are a few techniques for developing ""born"" leaders:

  • Clearly communicate the organization's values and objectives, as well as its expectations and responsibilities. Let your people know ahead of time exactly what they will be held accountable for. Time spent spelling out what the organization wants to accomplish and the values it will employ to achieve these goals is time well spent.

  • Set high standards. Refuse to accept mediocrity. When standards are high, the better people will work harder to achieve them. Too often today, we're afraid of offending the underachievers if they aren't given the same rewards as the top performers. This only serves to pull the organization down to its least common denominator. When extra effort is rewarded, good leaders rise to the top.

  • Encourage and reward innovation and creative thinking. Let people know you're always open to new ideas and approaches that will improve performance. Good leadership keeps people focused on the present. People who dwell on the ""good old days"" or think in terms of ""this is the way we've always done it"" will find it difficult to be creative or innovative.

  • Define what constitutes a ""done"" task. A good worker/leader will complete a task and move on to the next one. A perfectionist will continue to work on a single task until he runs out of time. The definition of a ""done"" task will always include a description of the appropriate standards of performance. Any work above and beyond that point is usually unnecessary and a complete waste of time and resources.

  • Clarify ambiguities. If people don't understand any aspects of their work (and in most cases, you'll find at least a few, even for long-term employees) make certain they are clarified to everyone's satisfaction. The more you can resolve these gray areas, the more often people will feel comfortable being creative.

Developing leadership from within your organization means modeling effective behavior, giving formal training and providing opportunities to practice leadership skills. Effective leadership in the workplace is often correlated with creating high expectations, communicating clearly and effectively, providing relevant feedback and maintaining focus on those things that are really important to your company and its customers.

Some people may be ""born"" leaders, but the majority of the really effective leaders come from among the people who find inspiration and satisfaction in their work and are willing to invest part of their energy in the development of others. SBN

William Armstrong, a management consultant for nearly 30 years, is president of Armstrong/Associates, a Pittsburgh-based consulting firm. The second edition of his book, ""Catalytic Management: Success by Design"" (McGraw-Hill), is available at Barnes & Noble, Borders & WaldenBooks stores.