The KEY to Leadership is SELF-Leadership.
I’m going to be a bit critical here, based on anecdotal evidence and viewing the syllabi of management courses that have come across my path, or which I have seen in the books which gave rise to those courses. My criticism is that, in the main, they focus on teaching methodologies that are getting other people to do the things that need to be done. My belief, based on this observation, is not that this is wrong, only that it starts ‘in the middle’.
The greater leadership/management books I have read start where management truly starts, and that is with the character, and not the competence, of the person upon whom managerial and leadership responsibilities lay.
Management specifically, and leadership to a greater degree than one might think, are skill sets that can be taught to anyone intelligent enough to understand and apply them. Including people like Hitler, Mugabe and Gadhafi. Character is something one can develop, certainly, but before you can develop good character fully – you have to either possess good character, or genuinely desire good character. Which means you already have some.
In other words, wanting to be a leader for selfish reasons may get you there, but the people following you will do so because they have to, not because they want to. Leading to benefit others, to improve things for the ‘things’ sake and not your own, results in people wanting to follow you because they want to, even if they have to. The quality and longevity of the results of any team is a reflection of whether a leader has good, or selfish character.
What the aforementioned training courses omit is the training that a potential manager or leader is not absolutely required to follow poor examples – or even good examples. The courses omit input on values and how they affect how we think and behave, and how values differ between people. How recognising and respecting those differences can improve relationships. How adhering to the values that (according to Rushworth M Kidder in the book, “Moral Courage”, Morrow Books, 2005) all people/groups identify as desirable and effective, but which so many leaders and managers ‘forget’ in the moment when it seems more expedient to capitulate and compromise their ethics rather than deal with conflict. (How many managers have you perceived have compromised their ethics because someone above them in the hierarchy is ‘too important’ to challenge?)
Kidder’s example surveys showed that there were 5 universal principles people wanted to demonstrate (and certainly which they expect to see shown by others!). They were essentially Honesty, Respect, Responsibility, Self-Respect (integrity?) and Compassion. Different terms were often used but these were the essential synonyms.
‘Proper’ Self-leadership training reinforces that a trainee has values that they know are representative of good character, starting with those five. It reinforces the need for trainees to be willing to stand up for those principles, or to fall on the self-destructive sword of capitulation and compromise. It helps trainees discover ethics – not situational ethics, real ethics – that will direct their behaviour.
That is how the world can be improved. Not by teaching a skill set, but by reinforcing good character in people, who then stand up for it.