Leadership can be learnt


The key to effective leadership lies not primarily in abilities we are born with, but in techniques, skills, "action logics," and character that we can continue to develop throughout life.

The message that individuals can transform their leadership capabilities as adults lies at the heart of research carried out over a 25 year period by UK performance management consultancy, Harthill, and published in the current edition of the Harvard Business Review.

The research combines survey work of more than 6,000 managers and professionals at hundreds of companies in diverse industries, over a period of more than two decades.

It reveals that leadership is not governed by the personality of the individual or their philosophy of leadership, but their own internal 'action logic'. This means that the way a leader interprets the world around them and reacts when their power or safety is challenged is central to developing strong and effective leadership qualities.

The research classifies leaders into one of seven distinctive Action Logic categories: the Opportunists, Diplomats and Experts, and progressing gradually to the Achievers, Individualists, Strategists and Alchemists.

The first three are associated with below-average performance, the latter four with medium to high performance.

The most common action logic, named 'Expert,' is governed by logic and expertise, seeking a rational way to work.

These 'Experts' represented nearly four out of 10 of the entire group and are often viewed as being good individual contributors to a business or organisation.

But only five per cent of individuals were categorised as 'Strategists' or 'Alchemists', possessing the skills and capabilities necessary to effect transformational change on an organisation-wide level, a figure which goes a long way towards explaining why so many 'change management' initiatives fail in so many organisations.

However these leadership styles are not fixed. Individuals who are willing to work at developing themselves and understand their own qualities can almost certainly move toward one of the more effective action logics, the research argues.

A Diplomat, for instance, can succeed through hard work and self-reflection at transforming himself into a Strategist.

It follows, then, that organisations that help their executives and leadership teams to examine their action logics can reap rich rewards.

David Rooke, partner at Harthill Consulting and co-author of the Harvard Business Review article said that the research showed that that there is room for us all to develop and maximise our leadership capabilities.

"The lessons for businesses to learn lie in their willingness to make leadership development a central pillar in the way they operate and a powerful force for transforming their fortunes," he said.