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Leadership is a learnt skill

20 January 2003 by
Leadership is a learnt skill

"People leave people, not companies" (Gallup) - this is often quoted but seldom really heeded. To an employee, his boss is the company. This places great responsibility on all your managers, at every level, to represent the company in the best light. So, why is more work not done on developing and nurturing leadership skills at all levels in an organisation?

The choice is no longer between being a leader or a manager, as today's manager needs a combination of both sets of skills. As well as running a well-managed business, anyone responsible for a team of people needs to fulfil those people's expectations of being engaged, involved, inspired, developed and led. Yet how many businesses in hospitality are growing leadership skills as a matter of course?

In an extensive Mori poll in the USA earlier this year, the most common reason for job dissatisfaction was: "My boss is a jerk." How many of our workforce would agree?

Fifty years ago, the top leadership traits were defined as ambition, intelligence, energy, knowledge, integrity, self-confidence and desire to lead. Today, all these are presumed, and a leader must develop a more sophisticated range of skills. The Harvard Business School lists today's desired traits as communication, creativity, the ability to create and empower talented teams, the ability to "tell it the way it is", and a desire to nurture (or create) such a culture. A leader must have the capacity for constant learning, be able to embrace and cope with change and build intelligent strategy.

Communication is key. But, what do people mean by that? Harvard believes: "Communication is the real work of leadership." Great leaders develop the ability to distil complex ideas into a few simple words so everyone can understand and embrace them.

Communication is also about asking the right questions, listening and acting on the answers in the right way. People in hospitality are fabulous at communicating with their clients so, often, the skills are already there. What is needed is a change of mindset so that people are encouraged - even required - to make the same level of effort with internal "customers".

All of these sophisticated skills seem like a tall order, but sending everyone on training courses and hoping that will do the trick is not enough.

Certainly, training programmes and coaching will be required, but the key thing to remember is that many people have inherent leadership skills. We must spot potential early and nurture these skills. We need to inspire confidence, allow people to learn from their mistakes, give them the right development at the right time, then allow them to use it.

People like developing their own and others' leadership skills - it makes them feel good. And guess what?They might even stay with you longer.

Jane Sunley is managing director of Learnpurple

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