Are leaders born, or is leadership something you can emulate? Joanna Andrews went to get some insight from Gallup.
What makes a great leader isn’t easy to define. When you look back in history at some of the world's best-known leaders, is there an obvious common denominator? Do they share any of the same traits? Think of the Greats – like Julius Caesar, Napoleon Bonaparte, Winston Churchill or Abraham Lincoln. What do they have in common? What made them great leaders? And how do their leadership qualities equate into today’s highly competitive corporate world?
These were just some of the questions raised at a forum at the Capital Club in Dubai recently hosted by Dr Ehssan Abdallah, Senior Practice Consultant at Gallup. Dr Abdallah explored the latest findings from Gallup research which provided some of the answers to what it takes to lead. He told invitees how to unlock their full potential and how companies in the MENA region can ensure leadership sustainability.
The presentation, ‘Developing Leaders of Tomorrow’, stressed the importance of focusing on talents and strengths – rather than weaknesses. Dr Abdallah said strength-based leadership arms an organisation with the right skill set they need to succeed.
He referred to a well-known quote from former US President Dwight D Eisenhower, “Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.”
It may have earned him a few laughs but the meaning rang true. A true leader has the ability to trust the people under them and empower them to do the task at hand to the best of their ability. A leader doesn’t need to prove him or herself. A leader has the ability to build a strong team with talents that complement each other and fill the missing gaps.
Gallup defines talent as, “a natural and consistent ability to perform at excellence” or “a recurring pattern of thought, feeling or bahaviour that can be productively applied.” But what causes someone to excel in a role? “Easy”, he said. “Skill, knowledge and talent.”
He asked his audience to think about a leader they know and define in one word their leadership traits. Words like ‘stability’, ‘trust’, ‘motivation’ and ‘drive’ were shouted out - all traits synonymous with strength and positivity. “Are those qualities transferable or innate?” he asked.
Leadership skills are acquired over time, he said, based on several factors. This comes down to an individual’s personality, experiences and development; how they adapt to their surrounding, how they accept responsibility, how they delegate and how they nurture others. There are many factors to take into account.
“Some things can be learned, like public speaking, how to look someone in the eye or how to start with an opener… But can someone learn how to react in a crisis? It is vitally important to differentiate between what can be learned and what is innate?” He said many organisations tend to spend more time on their low performers rather than their high performers. It is time for companies to wake up to the fact that talent plays an important role in an organisation.
People with the potential for leadership tend to be the high performers. However, what companies need to think about next is what happens when those high performers move higher up the chain – or leave a company. What is the ‘bench strength’ behind them?
According to Dr Abdallah, many companies around the world – particularly in the MENA region - tend to overlook designing and implementing a robust succession plan. “Companies need to consider their leadership pipeline,” he said.
Employee turnover in this part of the world is high due to the number of expatriates in management positions in the private sector in the Middle East. The problem is that when a c-suite executive leaves it creates a corundrum: do you hire internally or externally? Both pose risks. If a company hires an external candidate there are unknown risks involved – not to mention the threat of upsetting loyal internal candidates who feel they are up to the job. They may feel disgruntled and resign - resulting in two men down. When you employ an outsider, it often takes months before they are fully up to speed – not to mention the costs involved. It is a fine line to tread.
The key to any successful business is looking ahead; implementing a wellthought out plan; developing a strong mentorship programme; preparing for any eventuality – and not just leaving it to fate.