A resource from the leaders in simulation training.

Welcome to Troubleshooting Thursdays! Thanks for tuning in once again. As most of you know, in this blog we write about critical topics for manufacturing executives and HR managers. If you’ve been away over the summer months, be sure to check out our recent series on Six Sigma continuous improvement, organizational change management, and performance management.

Today we’re beginning a new series on leadership and employee development.  Here in Part 1, we’re talking about what leadership is, whether it’s innate or you can teach it, and why it matters.

Natural born leaders

You’ve heard the expression – “he’s a natural leader,” or “she’s a born leader.” Leadership is a mysterious quality that we can’t always put our finger on, but we know when we see it. There are some among us who just naturally possess all the qualities that makes them want to lead, and others want to follow them.

They aren’t always good people (Hitler and Stalin could be considered natural leaders) but natural leaders definitely share some traits: extroversion, intelligence, confidence, personal attractiveness or charisma, energy, and a will to dominate (in a good or a bad way). Some of this has been proven, through twin studies, to boil down to genetics, but there’s no single “leadership” gene. Instead, a complex interaction of hundreds of genes contributes to a person’s desire to lead.

However, psychologists say that genetics are only responsible for about 31% to 32% of the variables that form a leader, and in fact a person’s environment, particularly upbringing and personal experiences including education, has a much bigger impact than genetics. In other words, life makes leaders.

If leaders are only born, you might as well stop reading this now

If leaders are only “natural born,” then you as a manufacturing executive might as well stop reading this now. You should just look for the natural leaders, hire them, and let them do their thing. The only problem is, by most counts they only represent about 10% of the population, so that really narrows down the talent pool. They’re also in high demand by other companies. And maybe the ones you can find don’t have the skill set you need…

But obviously, we don’t believe leaders are only born and can’t be created. If that were true, US companies wouldn’t be spending $14 billion annually on leadership training and development! It’s clear that even if people are not natural leaders, leadership can still be taught.

Habitual vs. situational leaders

Tim Elmore, founder and president of the leadership training organization Growing Leaders, says that there are two types of leaders: habitual and situational. Habitual leaders are the natural ones, and situational leaders are the ones who don’t seem to be leader types until they encounter a situation that “fits their passions and strengths.” Once “activated” by the right situation, they do become good leaders.

Elmore says that if you define “leader” as president, chairperson, or CEO, then most people will never occupy those leadership roles—only about 10% will. (We assume this also applies to homicidal dictators.) But if you define leadership as using one’s influence, then everyone can be a leader. Even the shyest of introverts will influence 10,000 other people in their lifetime.

Elmore refers to a 2000 Kellogg Foundation study on the status of leadership on university campuses in North America, which came to the conclusion that every student has the potential to be a leader, that all students will need leadership skills in today’s world, and that leadership skills must be taught. “Leadership should not be limited to the people who hold top positions in an organization,” he says.

Why cultivate leadership in your organization?

From the top on down, business are formed of many smaller teams. They may be grouped according to function, e.g., sales, HR, production, design, engineering, maintenance, support staff, etc., or by region, or some other criteria, but they all need leaders. Leaders are important in every team at every level because they help motivate, build morale, and otherwise exert a positive influence the staff around them. People who possess these skills can help an organization reach its strategic objectives.

Poorly trained leaders, on the other hand, can have a hugely negative impact on a company’s bottom line. A 2004 Future Foundation global study of over 700 executives found that poor people-management was sucking the life out of corporate profits, and that in the US alone, companies were spending $105 billion a year to correct problems associated with poor leadership skills.

As a manufacturing executive, you are yourself a leader, and part of your job is to cultivate the next generation of leaders. Be sure to join us next week for Part 2, when we’ll look at tangible ways to develop leadership in your manufacturing staff!

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