I recently read that ‘true leaders are made, not born’. As a professional business trainer with over 2 decades of experience, I whole heartedly agree that leadership training should be a staple on all company training menus. I offer leadership training also, and it's a popular topic. But I believe the very best leaders are not trained and made, they are trained and enhanced. Consider the difference here.
In many companies, leadership training falls to the obvious, people already in management positions. Top-down leaders. However, management does not automatically equate leadership. In fact, most managers aren’t very good leaders, they are good administrators. True leaders naturally have certain characteristics and nine times out of ten begin their development organically, at lower levels. Even in these positions though, their star qualities begin to shine. They are Bottom-up or ‘Grassroots’ leaders.
For the most part, when referencing leaders our schemata will recall bombastic, overtly powerful figures. Well dressed types mostly, loud voices, confident, ambitious, good public speakers, momentarily inspiring, mostly male. But these people are rarely the true leaders of an organization. It's rather the invisible grassroots leaders that are the glue that holds together and drives the engine of the company forward. All too often though, these people aren't recognized for their true abilities. They remain overshadowed and often end up slipping through the cracks, run over and flattened by oblivious human resource management, corporate competiveness, inflated egos, and aggressive ladder climbing and power dynamics.
It's worth considering that a business owner does not always make a good leader, some owners recognize this and strategically position a group of talented people to do what they cannot, lead effectively. Consider also that strategic planning and management is also not leadership in itself. Planners, managers, and executors are very different kettles of fish. Some however, confuse the terms owner, director, manager, and leader and bulldoze forward leaving a path of often not so soft destruction behind them. This is the command and control management style. In companies like these, grassroots leaders with a wealth of potential are often snuffed out and extinguished before they’ve even really begun to emerge.
The true leader is one that connects. They have the ability to move fluidly through different parts of the organization from person to person, slowly weaving an invisible cord which binds the people power of the organization together. They don’t just hear, they listen and empathize. This empathy allows them to develop deep relationships which retain and motivate employees far more effectively than promised pay rises and illusive bonuses. They are excellent problem solvers, not because they have all the solutions but because they are able to bring the right people together to find the solutions needed. They care about the company in a holistic way. In a way that is sometimes lost at an upper management level. Both profit and people are important. They value the contributions of their colleagues and in so doing activate peer empowerment. Peer mentoring is also a part of the way they work naturally, they both seek mentoring and are informal mentors themselves. The statement ‘people are our most important asset’ is obvious to them. It's not just lip service. They intrinsically understand the value of teamwork without having the overused term tossed at them in a meeting. Motivational workshops are largely redundant to them, they are intrinsically motivated and this motivation is contagious, it spreads. They are willing to go the extra mile and then some, and they positively influence all who work around them. They are not necessarily in management positions, often they are the frontliners, the people in the field, the folks in the back office, the very foundations of the company.
These people are like diamonds, at first glance perhaps only a black coal exterior is visible but with a little excavation something much rarer and more valuable is discovered. It's these people that will benefit the most from leadership training and in turn benefit the company the most. Training that will enhance what they already bring to the table. Training that will provide them with a toolkit for growth. Training that will teach them how to harness, magnify, and direct their inherent abilties. Training that is comprehensible and applicable.
The challenge for management is to identify these people and that means hands on exploration of all levels of a company’s operations. It means going above and beyond paper based quantitative assessments and extending into more qualitative forms. It means having the right people with the right knowledge who are willing to get out from behind the desk and ‘down and dirty’ in HR and other areas of Management. It also means extending this understanding of the evolving concept of leadership and roles to an upper management level.
On many levels leadership training will extend benefits to most who take it, it's definitely not a waste of time, but it also wont magically turn stone to gold. Identify your planners, your managers, and your executors and provide them with the right training toolkits. Remember also that different types of leadership training suits different individuals and their roles and functions in a company. Most importantly, don't expect elephants to climb trees or fish to run marathons, assess and allocate wisely.
Grassroots leadership development will empower and energize your organization. Visualize an electrical current running through your company operations – this is Grassroots Leadership. Grassroots leadership development recognizes, acknowledges, values, and develops (RAVD) people power and transforms ‘people are our greatest asset’ from merely a popular catch phrase into a reality.
By Amber Victoria - Owner and Principal Trainer at The Communication Factory