Are we developing thinkers or dummies?

When I start talking about leadership, my first always is: “ are leaders born or made”?

I have gone back and forth with different answers, but over the years, I believe I came to the conclusion that some of leadership skills are innate, however, some of them can be taught and developed.

I remember that in my very early years at school I could not really figure out why I was always chosen to be the captain of the team, whether by the coach, teacher or my peers. Some times I thought it was because I was probably taller than the majority of the girls, some times because I was stronger, some times I even felt smarter…and that one came when I played sports with the boys (which were naturally taller and stronger than me) and yet was chosen to be the captain not that at the time it really mattered… I was chosen and that was awesome!

I have always enjoyed the fact that I had to come up with strategies, assign the right role to each team member, assign tasks and keep them accountable to the team, and even somehow had to “campaign” so we would have people cheering for our team!

Thinking back to that time, I believe some of the skills innate to me were: team building – I have always been a good listener and good motivator, and that alone made players want to be in my team; confidence – my team would trust my strategies; personable – even for a kid, leadership can go to your head, and I did not let that happen – I tried to praise everyone, hug the team, celebrate the victories, and even share some tears once in a while…

I did have though, at that time, an unforgettable coach: one that took the time to know me deeply, identified my strengths and opportunities, encouraged me to think and find my own solutions, to develop my own “team management strategies”, and relationship skills – someone that allowed me to have initiative, calculate risks, be conservative enough to keep everyone’s ground, but bold enough to bring innovative tactics and ideas.

And then came the “real world” and my question is: ‘ are we, as leaders, developing thinkers or dummies”?

Are we identifying the innate leadership skills in our team members and developing them to be thinkers? Or are we simply telling them what to do and making them simply copy solutions and behaviors?

Everyone is not the same, do not learn the same way or at the same speed. That said, I believe that we have to be able to individualize our coaching to each of our team members: not all of them will be independent, confident and innovative. Not all of them will have initiative or analytical thinking. But if we think about it…those that do not have these skills, are probably not tailored to be leaders. Absolutely nothing wrong with that, we should still develop them, however for a different role.

I recruited some really strong teams during my career and have always enjoyed developing them for different roles, helping them to find their path to a role which they could be really successful in, that they were passionate about.

Once I had a very diverse team, and diverse I mean, really diverse: they were from different parts of the world, coming from different backgrounds, grew up in different cultures and even spoke different languages, what meant very different accents. But what could be challenging, became one of the richest experiences of my life. I had to understand them individually, yet assess them as a team. I had to develop them separately, yet lead the team work that led to business success.

I remember once, one of the potential leaders was encharged of ordering supplies – put into the system, make sure the supply list was complete and accurate, and fit it into budget. It was my day off and this associate got lost somewhere in time and could not do it. She called me asking to walk her through the process. I could have done that, it would not take 10 minutes. However, I would be training her to depend on me all the time and to have the answer ready for her. Instead, I simply told her where to research. It probably took her longer to complete the task than if I had just given her the steps, but she understood that to be a leader, she will have to look for resources, to search for answers and do not depend on someone else to complete her assignments. As I said before, I could develop the 3 of the potential leaders the same way, but guess what? They are all successful leaders nowadays. And I am very proud of them.

My point is, we should develop leaders to think, not to copy. Yes, leaders come with an innate set of skills, but yes, we can develop them into not only leaders, but great leaders. We can coach them on how to use the innate skills.

And if we are great leaders, we will develop the non-leaders into different but very successful roles. No matter what, I believe in developing thinkers!



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