August 1, 2016 • Newsletter
We’re surrounded by leaders. Loud ones, quiet ones. Natural ones, reluctant ones. Servant ones, and grandiose ones. Ones that make us proud. Others that make us resolute. With the conventions complete, our political leaders are campaigning for the fall presidential campaign and all the other – arguably more important – races. With the Olympic torch en route to Rio, our sports leaders are gearing up for competitions to test their physical and mental skills in a race against longevity.
There is no shortage of leadership examples. Some, of course, are better than others.
But the question we keep wrestling with is this: Can you teach leadership? Are leaders naturally born? Or can anyone train to become a great leader? Regardless of the answers, how can we in the arts claim more leadership positions? And what does that even mean?
This month, we’re exploring those questions and more. And as a result, you only have one task to do this month: Explore your own leadership capabilities.
Perhaps it goes without saying that we are literate in this area, but we are far from experts in leadership theory. There is no shortage of reading material that delves into the science behind leadership techniques, leadership qualities, and key traits of effective leaders. There is also no shortage of writings online with tempting titles suggesting seven key ways you too can be a leader, or three secrets to know if you are a true leader.
These musings are neither of these. They are based on readings and study, observation and reflection. We don’t pretend to be experts in the science of leadership. Normally we stick to financial literacy among artists; that’s where our expertise really shines.
But leadership called this month, and well, we followed.
Can Leadership Be Taught?
Certainly, some people are “natural” leaders, meaning their personalities, dispositions, and the tasks they enjoy are more generally associated with leaders.
But even “natural” leaders need study, reflection, and training to be great leaders. Natural ability may make the studying process or the training process a bit more intuitive, but without a studying and training process, natural abilities will always fall short.
Having said that, there is no litmus test for leadership. There is no required SAT or ACT score to be considered “leadership material.” There is no required degree plan or career path that guarantees leadership achievement. While there may be courses in leadership, the study of leadership is never complete. At least not for great leaders.
So yes, leadership can be taught. And for some, the lessons of leadership will feel more “natural.” But leaders are neither born nor trained. They are cultivated, and they continue their own cultivation for the duration of their leadership and beyond.
What Makes a Great Leader?
Remember when we said we weren’t experts, but rather chose to spend this month exploring observations, literature, and musings on leadership? It’s still true. Based on our observations and study, there are five characteristics of great leaders.
Self-reflection. Great leaders must know their own strengths and their own weaknesses. They must know their own priorities and their own limits. They must know their own motivations and their own goals.
People Skills. Great leaders do not work in isolation. They must have excellent people skills, although these skills go far beyond simple charisma. They extend to empathy, the ability to persuade, the ability to earn trust, and the ability to gain respect.
Brains. Great leaders must have both broad knowledge and deep expertise.
Strategy and execution. Great leaders must be able to articulate a high-level long-term strategy while also understanding short-term tactics and metrics to achieve that strategy.
Support. Great leaders must have strong personal support through friends and family. They must have strong professional support through mentors and teachers. And they must have strong task support through reliable staff.
We’ll be exploring these characteristics each week this month. Check back in on Mondays to read more, or connect with us on social media to be reminded of the updates.
Where Are These Great Leaders?
Here’s the best part… Great leaders don’t have to be in the White House (although it is so much better if they are). Great leaders don’t have to have long titles or six-digit salaries. Great leaders are found running households as stay-at-home parents. They are found coaching youth sports teams. They are found running martial arts studios and teaching yoga classes. They are found working in thankless mid-level management jobs where they are squeezed between the cynicism of the old guard and the exhausting exuberance of the new. They found juggling household responsibilities for multiple generations instead of quietly retiring. They are found teaching our children. They are found investing in our communities. They are found fighting for a better world.
They are found wherever humans are found. Because all humans have the capacity for leadership. All of us can persuade and motivate, and champion, and support. All of us can develop expertise, and reflect.
And that means you too. We can’t wait to see what you’ll do next.