By Perminus Wainaina
A few weeks back, an advertising company had invited me for a three-week training on effective communication. Midway during the training, one of the employees approached me during a break.
The employee asked if I could request them to give feedback anonymously. I tried seeing if there was a particular issue he’d like me to look at, but he was not willing to answer.
A few days later, I did just that, I asked the team to anonymously write down any feedback they had so far, and any areas they wished me to focus on.
Out of a team of 18 trainees, seven of the comments revolved around the same issue. Some of the team members felt some of the top managers did not have leadership qualities.
One participant complained about a manager saying, “I do not think he was born to lead. He has just attained the position because of how long he’s been with the company. If the company would like to progress, they should replace him with a natural born leader.”
Afterward, this got me thinking, are leaders born or made?
This question has been debated for ages. With both sides having strong arguments, it’s hard to reach a conclusive answer.
On one side, those who say leaders are born will point to some inherent characteristics. For example, some people are naturally charismatic, ethical, and always seem to have a vision for any project.
For those siding with leaders being born, they believe you can’t teach someone to have a vision, it’s an inborn trait. When you look at some of the greatest leaders through history, you’ll notice a trend of similar traits even though they were born at different times, sometimes without the knowledge of each other. As such, some might debate these qualities can only be passed on and not taught.
On the other side, there are those who argue anyone can be taught to be a great leader. This side believes the key traits needed to make a great leader can be taught. For example, most great leaders are strategic. The ones who side with leaders being made believe a character like being strategic can be taught, like any other skill.
In the country, it looks like we’re always in the middle of some power and leadership battle. The battles range from the national stage to parastatals and private companies.
Then, who should hold a leadership position, and what skills do they need to have? More importantly, can these skills be taught, or are they only acquired at birth?
To answer this, let’s first look at the most recurring traits in great leaders. These traits are;
1. Emotional Intelligence
Emotional intelligence (also known as EQ), is being aware of your emotions and learning to employ these emotions in a helpful manner.
In the workplace, EQ can benefit you as a leader. Self-control is a great example of EQ. You don’t have to react to everything. When you control yourself even in the most stressful an demanding of situations, the employees have greater trust in you having everything handled.
Can emotional intelligence be taught? Yes! You can learn and practice individual traits that will you’re your EQ.
In several studies, it has been noted most leaders succeed from emotional intelligence than they do form a high IQ.
Take a look at great leaders in history. They were all able to see the bigger picture, break it down into measurable actions, and plan to achieve the overall objective.
Strategy is a key trait in every leader. Look at it this way, some employees will only perform their daily duties. Once they clock out, they don’t have to think about work until the next day. As a leader, however, you have to ensure everyone is working towards the vision of the organization.
Can being strategic be taught? Most would argue no, but I would say yes.
There is, however, a condition; only you can teach yourself to be strategic. You may read up books on strategy and use many other available resources, but you have to always be intent at looking for the bigger picture.
3. Great communication skills
A great leader will always be able to communicate with others.
Take the vision for example, as a leader; you not only have to be strategic, you also have to break down and relay this vision to your employees.
Every great leader was able to rally a following through their communication skills. In some instances, leaders could convince their followers to perform a task that seemed impossible. This is the power of communication. You can convince someone to move a mountain through communication.
Can communication be taught? Yes! Through effective practice, you can learn how to communicate efficiently with anyone.
Building your communication skills will help you not only as a leader in the workplace but also in life.
Ultimately, I have come to learn everyone can be a leader. However, it takes time and practice to build on characters that make a leader. When you’re willing to grow these skills, you’ll become a better leader.
The more you learn, the better a leader you’ll be.
Perminus Wainaina is an experienced HR Practioner with over 15 years experience in executive recruitment and selection, training, performance management, and Kenyan labour laws.
He has consulted for firms such as Safaricom Sacco, Oxfam, Un Women, Pacis Insurance, Windsor Golf, Muthaiga Country Club, etc. Currently, he represents the private sector at KEBS in the HR standardization committee.