A gifted leader gets the “right” people to do the “right” things at the “right” time. It’s easy to tell when a good leader is at work. And conversely, it’s just as easy to tell when a poor leader is at the helm.
Part Science, Part Art
What makes it so hard to define and to create leadership in the moment? Is it because the ability to lead, like most human characteristics, is a mixture of traits we are born with along with skills that we acquire? Maybe it’s because leadership, much like the martial arts, is part science and part art.
Modern theories about leadership development focus almost exclusively on skill acquisition, assuming that reading the right books and taking the right classes and implementing the right strategies encourage an effective leader. Is the right book really the answer to being a great leader?
Strengths and Deficits
Why is it that while we don’t have any problem with the idea that people are born with certain traits, the idea of a knack for leadership is not considered to be one of them? Our knack for leadership is actually a cluster of traits that make up our natural inclination to lead—which includes charisma, intelligence, appearance, stature and voice tone. In martial arts, you can add traits like aggressiveness, flexibility, height and bulk. In order to blossom into a leader (or a martial artist) we must master skills according to our unique strengths and deficits. Each of us has a genetic fingerprint—a blueprint of skills and deficits, and if we are willing to work hard enough, we can develop skills that will allow us to accomplish anything.
But we’ve got to know where to start. We’ve got to be able to submit to the all-encompassing process using our talents to overcome our shortcomings.
Just like martial art students progress through levels signified by belt colors, similarly, leaders go through stages as well. The leaders’ journey is a progression from emerging to competent, and finally, to transformational leadership.
In essence, both martial artists and leaders proceed along a pathway from doing to being. It’s the difference between someone who practices martial arts and a person who is a martial artist. Likewise, it’s the difference between a person who has leadership responsibilities and someone who is a leader. Great leaders don’t simply accept their circumstances; they transcend them. They tap into internal resources to harness external factors and transform their situations.
The journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step. This saying represents two important messages.First, just make an agreement with yourself to be in the mindset for beginning. Start somewhere. Second, once you make that beginning, don’t be fooled, there is a long, and at times, arduous road ahead.