Is Leadership a Skill or a Trait?

Apparently, we spend about three and a half billion dollars a year on leadership training, out of around three hundred billion on training in total, or a little over 1%. Either that means we’re not really that interested in it. or we think we’re naturally good at it anyway, ot maybe that we don’t get a quick enough return on it.

As a general rule, good management improves near term returns, whilst good leadership determines the opportunities we have to get the best returns from good management. There is no clear dividing line in business – we need managers who understand leadership, and leaders who can manage and for the most part we have people somewhere in the middle. We make the best returns, in normal times, with good managers who are competent leaders.

Right now however, competent isn’t enough. We are faced with chronic uncertainty and complexity. VUCA on steroids compared to when the term was originally coined by the Warren Bennis and Bert Nanus over thirty years ago based on the experience of the Military. Right now we need excellent leadership.

Which makes me wonder, for all the claims of the training industry just how much of leadership we can impart, and how much is a function of genuine character, commitment and vision, which we can’t train.

It shows when we have leaders who are obsessed with providing evidence for their decisions, from “following the science” to reams of data to justify poor performance, or lack of real investment in new areas. Being wrong is a sin in management, but a fact of life in leadership. With the pressure on, many of our leaders seem to be showing their management chops.

Managers can decide when planning their next week, ” I should show some leadership there”. That’s acceptable and necessary. Leaders on the other hand lead all the time. When the pressure is on, they show their character and vision, take the risks, and the hits. They are consistent. It’s how they think. They make the calls.

People who say “we enable our managers to be leaders” are fooling themselves.

Great leadership is a trait, not an optional skill.

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