Several years ago, when my oldest son was in grade school, he applied for an opportunity to go to Washington DC for a leadership event. Essentially, the teachers in his Catholic grade school were going to pick someone to represent the school to go on the trip in order to learn more about how to become a great leader. The caveat was, however, the person they picked had to already have recognized leadership potential. Eventually, it came down to my son and one other person from his class of 6th graders. My son was not ultimately picked. He was crushed. How could the teachers not recognize the leadership potential he knew he had?
Many of us have been in situations where we have not been picked as a leader or even wanted to be picked as the leader of an event, team or project. As kids, and even sometimes as adults, we believe that leadership is something that is just a natural talent and not something that can be developed. While it is true that some people may be more inclined to be leaders, it is also true that leadership skills can be developed. There are multiple attributes of a good leader: people skills, decision making skills, organizational skills, communication skills etc. But there are three basic leadership skills that we can all develop.
Technical Skills-An Organizational Model
I believe that ultimate leadership is not possible without the technical skill required to do a particular job. As I explained to my son, his lack of being picked for a trip to DC to study governmental leadership should not make him feel he can’t lead. Instead, he needs to realize that there are multiple arenas that require leadership skills. I assured him that I would easily follow him on a trip in the mountains but maybe not a trip to the moon. This does not mean he is not a leader, it simply means that he has more technical skills in the mountains than he does with space travel. My son at the age of 12 already was learning the technical skills of surviving in the mountains. He knew how to build a fire without matches and how to make a shelter and had some basic compass skills. If we ever had an accident in the mountains, I knew I could count on him to lead us to safety. So the arena of leadership makes a difference.
When I think about basketball leadership, it is obvious that players won’t want to follow a great senator into battle. Senators don’t likely have the technical skills for the job. Likewise, there aren’t any surgeons who were chosen to lead their surgical team based on their basketball playing ability. While all leaders across multiple arenas may need to have acquired similar skills such as listening skills and organizational skills, one of the most basic skills is still the technical skill you need in a specific arena. The captain of the team in most cases is the best senior player. The Coach of the team is someone who has coached basketball for years, starting as a low level assistant and rising in the ranks. The same is true for administrators who only rise in the ranks of leadership based on what skills they have developed as low level administrators. At some point, as technical skills begin to accrue and become more polished, other skills begin to develop. Some of those skills like interpersonal skills may have already been in place for years, but all skills become better in time if one works on them. In this way, it can be seen how leadership is a process and, as the saying goes, that leaders are made, not born.
Servant Leadership- A Church Model.
All priests and nuns go through a basic formation process that prepares them for their job as do most laypeople that are in a leadership position. Not all laypeople are put through a formational process in their lives as servants of the church, but many have been in formative processes that give them leadership skills. For most people, however, the best leadership school is that of learning how to serve. Not that servant leadership is void of all formal training or of any technical skill, but because this is probably the most basic leadership skill, that of becoming a servant. The more we serve others, the more we lead, not only by our example but by the way learn to anticipate others’ needs. Leading by example and leading by anticipating are two huge leadership skills because ultimately, they give followers the tools that are needed to do their jobs.
Collective Leadership- An Athletic Model
So if the first skills that you have to have in order to lead are the technical skills required of someone who is accomplished in their given leadership arena and the second skill is that of a servant, than the third skill is learning to lead from within. Athletes, Coaches, Administrators, and Trainers don’t lead from outside of an organization, they lead from within it. They are involved leaders who always ask the question, what is the best thing I can give to this team? They aren’t just upper echelon management that leads by pointing at people and delegating. They are people who are trying to find a way to provide needed tools to the team they are involved with. They may do this in different ways however; coaches scout opponents, administrators find money to pay for scholarships, and trainers make people better so they can play and not just sit on the bench. While all of these people may have a different role, they still lead from within. When you have multiple people leading from within, you end up with collective leadership. Too often, we think of leaders as individuals and not groups. We shy away from “leadership roles” because we are not comfortable giving assignments to others. The truth of the matter though is that we are all called to lead, it is just a matter of degree. We are all called to follow as well. And sometimes, the best leaders are those who happen to have the best followers on their team. Thus Collective Leadership is a way in which we lead and follow at the same time.
The bottom line here is that the basis of leadership has very little to do with being a born leader. The basis of leadership is a formation that starts with a desire to lead followed by a never ending life of servitude, then the development of a technical skill set for the arena you want to lead in and finally by the development of other skills (most notably an attitude of collective leadership) that make one a more accomplished leader.