Unlocking the secrets to exceptional leadership: going beyond natural talent

Leadership Blog

Is leadership capability an innate talent? Or is it learned? This age-old debate rages on, with many still believing you either ‘have it’ or you ‘don’t.’ This misnomer is dangerous, because:

  • It prevents talented people from aspiring to leadership, as they think they’re not ‘cut out’ to be a leader; and
  • It infers that leaders have ‘made it’ once they get that promotion, their title, and the big corner office. The conclusion is that our work here is done, which cultivates complacency instead of greatness.

Leadership capability within itself is a skill. Like with any skill, it requires work to evolve and develop as you progress in your career as a leader. Think of any problem you are currently experiencing while leading your organisation right now. If we were to break it all down, and trace the roots back to the source, it is guaranteed to be in some way a symptom of leadership capability. Sometimes leaders find this a little confronting, but the truth is it’s not something to be ashamed of. Rather, it gives us a map filled with growth opportunities to traverse. This isn’t specific to leaders, of course. Human beings are designed to learn, evolve, and grow. It’s in our DNA. Even Oprah is still learning!

What is leadership capability?

Contrary to popular belief, being successful in leadership has less to do with vanity metrics – like how many followers you have or your title, and is a skillset with attributes like:

  • Communication: effective leaders build trust through brave conversations. This enables them to set clear expectations, give valuable feedback, create a culture of accountability and transparency, and enhance meaningful relationships with team members, clients, and stakeholders.
  • Operational effectiveness: exceptional leaders invest in understanding their innate patterns, biases and predispositions that impact their personal operational effectiveness. They tackle problems like procrastination, impulsiveness, people pleasing, indecisiveness, being absent, floundering without a strategy or plan, lack of confidence and impact, or lack of diversity of thought and expertise to support their work.
  • Decision making: exceptional leaders don’t just make decisions on a whim, or bury their head in the sand. They have a decision-making framework that facilitates critical thinking, whether forward thinking, or on their feet decision making.
  • Values alignment: great leaders are embedding their values in every aspect of their organisation – policies, workflow, culture, interactions, service standards, compliance, performance benchmarks and approach to continuous improvement. If you’re out there touting your brand as being visionary and innovative, and not investing in your own development, it’s time to re-think that.
  • Participatory leadership: good leaders don’t just delegate and wipe their hands of it. They participate. This means they are in the trenches, maintaining visibility over operational integrity, giving on the spot feedback and guidance, mentoring, ensuring workflows and tools are being utilised and achieving the results they were designed for. They’re consistently recalibrating the performance of their firm for longevity.
  • Visionary: this isn’t just painting a vision and bringing everyone along – it’s also about looking forward at the world, your industry, trends, and preparing and planning for how you’re going to mitigate risks and maintain competitive advantage. Great leaders prepare for a tsunami event prior to seeing a tsunami on the horizon.
  • Adaptability: Roosevelt said, ‘a smooth sea never made a skilled sailor’ and that’s true. While we can’t always avoid every curveball, we can learn to rumble with them to develop resilience and strategic thinking. However, good leadership capability isn’t just about waiting for a rough sea, it’s about consistently practicing the art of self-disruption. This tests skills and hypothesis and helps to keep your organization relevant in an ever-changing, fast paced world.
  • Introspection: this is about asking yourself where you are vs. where you would like to be and moving to a place conscious leadership. That is, being empowered in the role you play, and the impact you have.
  • Commitment to best practice: exceptional leaders go beyond the bare minimum. They are committed to, and in fact, obsessed with, best practice. They are investing deep to redefine their industry, set new benchmarks for competitors, and have a fierce dedication to high performance. They see investing in evolving their leadership capability as a core success factor for broader success.

So, how do you invest in developing your leadership capability?

Leadership development requires a multi-faceted approach, which means designing an agile learning eco-system is most effective. This may include:

  • Targeted leadership programs or one-to-one coaching
  • Formalising a high-quality advisory board to challenge thinking and integrate expertise
  • Assessing how you are utilising the strengths, talents, and skillsets of your team to stretch your own capability
  • The resources you surround yourself with, including networks.

Every leader can develop their skills and uplevel their capability right now. Don’t wait until you are in crisis mode – if you would like help, please feel free to get in touch.

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