Ever been to a lecture on “cold calling”?
A few years ago I did just this. I sat through 30 minutes of suggestions about scripts, about what we could say to potential “prospects”. A question was then put to us about what we would say on the phone to some unsuspecting person we had just called up.
Stupidly I put my hand up and just said “say whatever comes into your head!” Well I like to think I put it a little more eloquently than this, but the result was dramatic. I was shouted down. Put down.
But looking back my ignorance on a difficult subject, was bliss. Bliss, that is, until I put my ignorance into action.
It’s the same with leadership. It’s an important and difficult subject, and like “sales” it’s not really taught very well, if at all.
Indeed it seems some people are born leaders, some people become leaders, and some people have leadership thrust upon them.
The latter category is where the greatest risk of failure lies.
The simplest route to promotion is excellence. That is, being very good at whatever subject you work in. Perhaps you are an accountant, a theologian or a surgeon.
But being very good at putting accounts together, composing a sermon, or repairing varicose veins doesn’t mean you can lead an accountancy practice, or a big church, or a Primary Care Trust.
In fact there is very little correlation at all. Leadership is its own skill.
In practice what we see is people in leadership positions who come to hate what they do.
Sometimes we see people who are no darned good, and everyone else hates what they do.
Don’t get me wrong, I love leadership. I think it’s the greatest thing, but many good people don’t really need to be doing it.
The good news is, most mistakes can be learned from, and you can improve your leadership skills. You could also pull out and focus on what you are good at, but that takes courage.
And for those youngsters who fancy a promotion, all the best to you, but know this: you will need at least two key skills to be an effective leader, to have a chance of succeeding at it.
You will need to understand your people and add to them. Secondly you will need to know what to do. i.e. you will need vision.
No one else can do these two things for you.