Do you have leadership skills? If not, it’s going to be tough in future, because next to professional specialists (like electricians and plumbers) it is ‘leaders’ the economy is after! In view of the many, many wicked problems facing us, it takes true leaders to guide us into a better future.

That’s why most graduates, upon starting in a professional career, immediately are confronted with further training: they need more leadership competencies! Obviously the ‘normal’ education system doesn’t foster these enough?

Apparently those who want to make a career and climb up the hierarchy ladder can’t have enough of it, the ability to lead.
In the homeland of leadership – the US of course – they start as early as possible to foster this important skill. By carving out the most promising already in kindergarten and to train them further on schools for the elite, or later on ‘shaping’ them at west-point and the likes.  But even here in Europe, we have these facilities for future leaders, and they increase in number.

If you are a matured employee and the next appraisal meeting is looming, or maybe your next job interview, then there are many offers to improve your leadership skills, in order to progress in your career: tons of literature is filling the shelves, many training facilities offer appropriate courses and there always is the possibility to follow a specialized MBA, depending on the urgency and the size of your wallet…
At the current pace, we soon have nobody left who is following!

Lately, it did pop up again, the question on leadership. At an admission interview, somebody wanted to know if the applicant did consider himself to ‘have it’ – the potential to be a ‘leader’. Somewhat surprised the applicant tried to find an answer, but he couldn’t. No wonder, with just 21 years of age and still having his studies lying in front of him!
The questions got stuck in my mind: why do we ask for this quality, what does this competency entail and foremost, how can you develop it, if at all?
And then, where do these ‘leaders’ take us? Does the goal play a role in leadership, or is it just the ability to run in front of the pack?

My research on the topic didn’t leave me with a good feel though: in most cases leadership is referred to as the ability to lead others in doing something, to ‘manage’ them. You can read about the correlation between management competencies and leadership competencies and that they are interrelated to each other. Managers are leaders, leaders manage. Accordingly, there is a strong belief with some experts that leadership qualities are those that managers posses, and subsequently, they cut these out for other professions. A technician obviously doesn’t need this ability; nor does an engineer; teachers not; for sure not designers.
But should by coincidence these professionals do carry the leadership quality, and it comes to the surface, they are quickly turned into managers. Apparently developing technical solutions or teaching to children alone can’t be regarded as a leadership task as such…

The theory also reveals that leadership is about the direct and in-direct manipulation, in order to achieve a set target: so it is about goals and the way to have them achieved. Direct manipulation direct is referring to the ‘stick’ whereas in-direct manipulation to the ‘carrot’ (which nowadays are those incentives, which motivate those who are lead, to achieve the target). Direct manipulation it’s easy to link it to management, but the in-direct is quite more delicate to link it to a skill: for me, this requires competency to create incentives based on tangible visions, to be able to create something, to design! Design can be a ‘carrot’ that can drive the followers to get going and to perform. Design can be the tool by which leaders (and followers) can create relevance in what they do, and why they do it.
If all have a clear purpose, it doesn’t need ‘sticks’ and ‘carrots’ anymore, just a little push in the right direction.

Henry Mintzberg once said that leadership isn’t a skill but a form of art: you need creativity and vision to animate people to become intrinsically motivated to reach a goal.
We need leaders who can create, and not just manage.

Look around: do your ‘leaders’ have the ability to shape and create tangible visions you would follow?
Can our leaders actually design something worth following, or are they just running ahead of the pack?

Maybe we need to revise the management doctrine and start to work on the ability to design – I personally will not follow anybody anymore, who cannot design tangible visions of where to go to.

If your boss discovers the leadership ability within you and wants to foster this, please do not visit an MBA, also visit a design school: study design and management 😉

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