“Leadership is not a position, noun or an adjective, it is an action verb.”
Kwame S. Salter
Leadership is a very elusive concept to define. We know it when we see it in action. Similarly, we know when there is an absence of leadership. The mountain of leadership literature, notwithstanding, what we don’t know is how to identify and develop effective leaders. However, we still debate the age-old question of whether leaders are born or made. And, while we carry on this debate, the problems and challenges we face daily are becoming more and more complex and wicked.
Today, organizations are in the throes of a deep leadership crisis. Their process for identifying, selecting and developing leaders is flawed. Instead of substance, we place more emphasis on the individual’s traits, appearance (gender and ethnicity), and social personality. They assume that if a person possesses certain traits they will become effective leaders when placed in a senior level position. Sadly, too many people still think that a senior level position will unlock the leadership capabilities of the new incumbent. However, lacking the qualities needed for real leadership, many of these so-called “can’t miss” high potentials become experts on describing, rather than solving, the problems and challenges we face on a daily basis.
Real leaders don’t wait until they are promoted to exercise and demonstrate leadership. They become experts at expanding the solution space; they often “ask for forgiveness instead of permission”; they make things happen instead of sitting around “wondering what happened.” Most importantly, they take a position instead of waiting to be promoted to a leadership position. Yet, according to the pundits, the one thing that they are certain of is that managers are not leaders.
In fact, they imply that leaders aren’t managers and managers can’t be leaders. They resort to clever quips and quotes to suggest that leaders are qualitatively superior to managers. Yet, most, if not all, leaders evolve from the ranks of managers. Therefore, my premise is that leaders exist at all levels of the organization. Effective leaders are effective managers and good managers must be good leaders. The organization or enterprise that will not only survive, but also prosper, into the next decade will be intentional about developing leaders at all levels.
Over my many years of being in leadership positions and identifying leaders, I have observed 7 qualities, each beginning with the letter “I”, that potential leaders exhibit, regardless of their level in the organization. These qualities are combination of both innate and learned behaviors. The 7 qualities I have observed in people who make excellent leaders are the following:
- Initiative:Readiness and ability in initiating action
- Intuition:A keen and quick insight
- Insight:Penetrating mental vision or discernment
- Integrity: Adherence to moral and ethical principles
- Intellect:The capacity for thinking and acquiring knowledge, especially of a high or complex order
- Instinct:A innate impulse or tendency towards action
- Introspection: The act or process of looking into oneself
Assessing talent using these 7 qualities will insure that you are improving the probability of successfully identifying future leaders–who are still in the pipeline, waiting to be promoted. As Michael Jordan once said, ” There is no ‘I’ in Team, but there is in Win.” I guarantee you that incorporating the 7 “I’s” listed above your organization will have a winning leadership team.