Are Good Leaders Born or Made?
Warren Bennis, the noted American scholar, organizational consultant and author, and widely regarded pioneer of studies in the field of leadership once said: “The most dangerous leadership myth is that leaders are born -- that there is a genetic factor to leadership. This myth asserts that people simply either have certain charismatic qualities or not. That's nonsense; in fact, the opposite is true. Leaders are made rather than born.”
The question is what makes for a successful leader? Many have written on this topic before me but few have identified the importance of having a foundation of ethical values that drive actions by a true leader. Leaders want to be followed. Followers want to believe in their leaders and trust that they will create an ethical organization environment. Employees want to know that leaders “walk the talk” of ethics.
Jack Welch, former chairman and CEO of General Electric Co., said, "Good business leaders create a vision, articulate the vision, passionately own the vision and relentlessly drive it to completion." I couldn’t agree more. Without a vision we don’t know where we want to go. Without a strategy we don’t know how to get there. Without a strong ethical culture we may get off track because of the pressures that often exist within an organization to maximize profits and enhance stock value, and because of the greed that has become endemic in all too many organizations.
The foundation of ethical leadership is to have integrity. Integrity enables a leader to withstand pressure to deviate from one's vision and accomplish the mission at hand. Integrity provides the strength of character to know when something is wrong, to speak out against it, and to act out of principled beliefs about right and wrong.
Of course, there is more to being an effective leader than being an ethical person. Leaders must possess skills that create a teamwork mentality in the workplace. Employees must buy into the vision and develop the motivation, with nurturing by the company, that helps to achieve end goals.
I have found over the years that my leadership skills have developed by closely watching other leaders to identify the best traits and know which ones to avoid. Here are some of my thoughts on developing positive traits of character in employees that support ethical behavior and build effective teamwork in the workplace.
Leaders must be passionate about their work and have it rub off on followers. They must be committed to their work and follow through actions with results. Good leaders are organized and know how to prioritize work. They are adept at developing people and getting the most out of employees. Good leaders give credit where credit is due; they recognize accomplishments in the workplace. As I have previously blogged about, transformational leaders act as a catalyst for innovation in organizations and for change in individuals. Transformational leadership is about implementing new ideas; these individuals continually change themselves; they stay flexible and adaptable; and continually improve those around them.
The highly regarded Malcolm Baldridge Award-Winning Leadership report concludes that effective leadership shares common elements that an organization can use to improve performance:
- A well-defined and deployed leadership system clarifies the roles of senior leaders and aligns strategies, plans, and actions with your mission and vision.
- Effective senior leaders understand that they cannot over-communicate.
- Senior leaders must be personally involved in promoting legal and ethical behavior.
- Building a sustainable organization requires profound knowledge of all of the factors that will help your organization last.
Notice the emphasis on vision, values, and ethics. I believe an important reason for the recent economic decline in America is attributable to: the lack of a clear vision by leaders; the failure to establish ethical values in the workplace (i.e. integrity, trustworthiness, responsibility, and accountability); and an egoistic approach to leadership and decision-making that emphasizes one’s own self-interests without seeing the bigger picture that demands consideration of the interests of others as an integral part of ethical leadership.
I close with a famous quote by Bennis that says it all:
“Leaders are people who do the right thing; managers are people who do things right.”
Blog posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on January 14, 2012