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Leadership Forum: Exploit your natural leadership abilities

If professional scouts were searching for potential leaders, similar to hockey scouts seeking budding NHL players, what leadership talents would they look for? If gifted leaders can be developed through education and training, then all hockey players, given quality training, should turn out to be like Wayne Gretzky. Right?

December 7, 2007
By E. David Hodgins

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If professional scouts were searching for potential leaders, similar to hockey scouts seeking budding NHL players, what leadership talents would they look for? If gifted leaders can be developed through education and training, then all hockey players, given quality training, should turn out to be like Wayne Gretzky. Right?

This addresses the age old question: Can good leaders be developed through training and to what extent does natural talent play a role? Certain people have above average physical abilities and therefore have the opportunity to become superstars on the ice, others demonstrate the ability to become great leaders and still others, to become good, hard working folk. And all are successful in their own way.

The proverbial question remains: Are leaders made or born – or is it both? We have all been involved in a team project in which one individual quickly assumes an unofficial leadership role. Is this because this person has a natural talent or is this the result of leadership training? The real challenge is to distinguish between what can and cannot be taught and the difference between talent and skill.

Talent relates to something we do well naturally. Some people are gifted singers or renaissance painters; others are tone deaf and not able to draw a straight line using a ruler. Can you teach someone to paint beautiful landscapes? No. It is not possible to teach someone a talent. Talents are innate, but they can be developed. A person with a voice for song can be taught to enhance their natural ability.

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Skills, on the other hand, are learned abilities and relate to how we do something. They can be taught. To mistake talent for skill or vice versa leads to disastrous results. Recognizing the difference between the two is critical when one seeks to develop leadership competencies. Think of these abilities in terms of how emergency events are mitigated. On the street it's about strategies, tactics and tasks. An incident commander with natural talent is able to identify the necessary strategies with little or no effort. That person is considered an exceptional officer whose leadership is respected by the fire fighters. Incident commanders who can't visualize strategies are at best only acceptable.

Accomplished leaders are able to create a vision and formulate strategies to achieve success. We can all name someone who has an innate talent to visualize an outcome and develop a road map to actualize their vision. Granted, some leaders do an adequate job of imagining the future, simply as a result of skills they have acquired through training procedures. The result is that someone with natural talent is able to become an outstanding leader, while others are at best only tolerable. And who wants to work with a "tolerable" leader?

Just as a seasoned hockey coach is aware of the team's Achilles' heel, you need to know your weaknesses and work relentlessly to address them while also focusing on your talents. Do you know which leadership traits your talents encompass? List your core strengths. Are they relationship building, problem solving, inspiring action or an analytical mind? Find ways to routinely use these strengths.

Have you been told that there is room for you to improve when it comes to communications, availability, creating realistic expectations and support for coworkers?  Trying to convince yourself that you are mostly right and others are to blame comes naturally.  Some individuals will go to great lengths to justify their actions.  We tend to relive disturbing experiences in our minds while creating a list of all the faults we see in others. It's like the instant replay in sports.  It's not helpful.  You need to recognize that you are playing this futile game and then stop. Really listen when others are trying to provide constructive criticism. 

Do you know your weak points? Are you developing your talents while working on your limitations? Have you volunteered for assignments that will challenge you and stretch your capabilities? No one leader has all the tools necessary to take an organization to the top and keep it there. Just as a hockey team needs a stand-up goalie, solid defence and aggressive forwards, a great organization needs individuals who are visionaries, strategic thinkers and those who are tactics and task    oriented. We need engineers to design the future and mechanics to ensure it works. Grow your talents and learn the necessary skills.

Can you imagine raising a ladder to fight a fire only to discover the ladder is up against the wrong wall? Make sure your ladder to becoming a great leader is in the right place. Remember, no one but you manages your career – not your organization, your boss or your human resource department. The key to fulfillment and success lies within you.

What's the best type of leader? The type you were designed to be.

And remember, it's all about "respect and passion".


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