Cultivating leadership

Old-school philosophy suggests that
leaders are simply born that way.
While there are natural-born leaders, leadership skills are not necessarily innate
and must be honed, says Anne Hach, executive director of training and development
at Corporate College of Cleveland.

“Even ‘born leaders’ need to learn specific skills to become successful,” says
Hach, adding that there’s a leader in all of
us. “However, what can never be taught
is the desire to uncover that leader. That
really is the fundamental first step to
becoming a leader.”

Smart Business spoke with Hach
about the elements of good leadership
and the specific skills a person must
learn in order to become a truly successful business leader.

What are the core skills one needs to learn to
become a great business leader?

There are several, such as effective communication, accountability, delegation,
decision-making and coaching. The
embodiment of each of these skills is what
makes an effective leader. All of these skills
can be learned. There are also habits that
are counterproductive to leadership that
can be unlearned. For example, some people have a tendency to finish a thought or
sentence with a question. While this can
make someone approachable if it is used in
small doses, overuse can undermine a person as an effective leader.

What is the most important skill an effective
leader must have?

They are all important, but one thing true
about all good leaders is that they lead by
example. Being genuine is critical to being
a successful leader. People who imitate a
style, or act in a way that is not authentic
short-change their potential.

Is there anything about leadership that can’t
be taught?

The desire to lead. As I once heard a
speaker say, ‘If you want to be a leader, don’t wait your turn.’ That is a compelling
statement that says, essentially, if you want
to become a leader, you need to take
charge of your own development. There
are people who may say that they want to
be a leader, and they may whine about not
having the skills or complain that their
company doesn’t provide opportunities for
leadership. Well, leaders do not wait for
someone to recognize them as leaders.
True leaders look for opportunities to hone
their skills and take charge of their own
life. That ‘fire in the belly’ to become a
leader really can’t be taught.

We all have had experience with formal
leaders — and informal leaders. The informal leaders are those people who are on a
committee, for example, and while they
may not be chair, they lead the show, and
others look to them for advice, wisdom
and leadership. That is an example of a person who did not wait to be asked. That is
the characteristic of a true leader.

Why is it important for employees to have
leadership skills?

If you are an entrepreneur, it is obvious
you can’t grow a company on just your
own hard work. To exponentially grow a business, you have to involve the work of
others — and to inspire these people you
need to be a good leader. For those who
work for a company, leadership skills are
equally important since, if people want to
get ahead in their careers, they also can’t
just get ahead simply on their hard work.
They may need to supervise other employees. To be successful at motivating others,
they need to hone skills that allow the
‘inner leader’ to come out.

What role should businesses play in cultivating leaders?

Savvy businesses understand the value in
training potential leaders and take an
active role. These businesses spend a lot of
time and energy in succession plans and
identifying leadership potential. All this
activity, by the way, becomes a reinforcing
cycle that attracts leaders to the company.

Along with the talent shortage, is there also
a leadership shortage?

Yes. Hiring managers report that, while
candidates may have excellent technical
skills, many candidates fall short on leadership skills. There are also many frustrated employees who long to move up the
corporate ladder but don’t have the leadership skills necessary to make that leap. The
leadership shortage doesn’t have to do
with the potential leaders out there — it is
the training that is necessary in the core
leadership skills that’s lacking. However,
many companies are beginning to wake up
to this fact and are helping these employees get the skills they need to become great
business leaders.

ANNE HACH is executive director of training and development at
Corporate College in Cleveland. Reach her at (216) 987-2962 or
[email protected]. Corporate College offers employers affordable, cutting-edge and custom-designed training programs to
enhance future work force development, job growth and job retention in Northeast Ohio. Visit them at