Moulding management: study finds leaders are made not born
Scientific training and education are key to nurturing strong and decisive leaders, according to new research
Debates about the determining factors behind great managers have existed throughout human history, but a new study has concluded that the traits we are born with are not so important after all – training will carry the day.
Published in the Journal of Leadership Education, the University of Illinois (UoI) findings showed that leadership development actually follows a specific pattern of progression. This was discovered by putting the study subjects through a simulated management course. After 15 weeks of taking an introductory class on management concepts, students showed improvements in the three main components of leadership: self-efficacy, skills and the motivation to lead.
At the outset of the course, UoI researchers asked their students to complete a dozen self-assessment forms, in which they identified which leadership strengths and weaknesses they felt they had. According to professor Kari Keating, students who had entered the course with low confidence in their ability to lead – saying, for example, “I don't really think of myself as a leader” – end up making great strides in their readiness for leadership after just 15 weeks.
On the other hand, students with high leadership readiness at the start of the introductory class, who ticked the box saying, “I've got this, I'm a leader”, became far more willing to lead people – even in situations that wouldn’t necessarily boost their CV or career prospects.
Fellow researcher David Rosch said that on the basis of that data, it is clear that science was a key factor in developing leaders. “It’s a three-legged stool,” he said. “We call it being ready, willing and able. Students first become ready to learn about being a leader; then they become willing to learn the skills necessary to practice leadership; and finally they’re able to lead because they have the skills and the motivation to do it. You can’t really move on to the other legs of the stool until you’ve achieved a certain amount of this readiness.”
He explained: “It’s like a math class. You’re not ready to do calculus if you don’t know the basics of algebra. This shows us that we need to work on readiness so students can make the most of advanced leadership courses.”
According to Rosch, leadership courses are beneficial to students’ employability, because they can vouch that they have learned how to embody the traits of a trailblazer. “If we could pre-test students for leadership proficiency in much the same way we test for chemistry placement,” he noted, “we’d be able to make our resources more efficient and maximize the learning potential that we have in our program.”
For more on these issues, read this CMI/CIPD blog on the importance of coaching.