Some leaders are born. All leaders can be made.

| March 3, 2017

How can we begin to teach leadership more thoroughly and more effectively throughout society? Heidi Holmes from Mentorloop says leadership cultivation must start young and continue at every stage of growth.

Some leaders are born; leaders like Martin Luther King Jr., Angela Merkel and Alexander the Great. But luckily for us less fortunate bunch, all leaders can be made.

Leadership is for the vast majority of people an applied skill. It is something that is learned through teaching, observation and application.

And herein lies the main problem with most leadership efforts around the world; people are not encouraged to aspire to lead, especially in Australia, where ‘tall poppy’ syndrome is still rife. Leadership is a learned trait – we just need to become better leadership educators.

Until we begin teaching all members of society that they can learn all of the qualities of great leaders, leadership will continue to be perceived as a white-dominant-male domain. While some members of underrepresented societal groups do ‘buck the trend’, they are the outliers, and identifying outliers is anything but a sustainable approach to cultivating great leaders.

There are a few established institutions that have applied the notion that leaders can be forged throughout their histories, and with great success.

In many militaries, people who have innate leadership skills are not told ‘well done’ or ‘great job’ upon exhibiting great leadership. Why should they be congratulated for exhibiting characteristics that come to them naturally? Instead, the people who move outside of their comfort zone and ‘become’ leaders have praised heaped upon them. This praise serves as a positive reinforcement of these behaviours and ensures the leadership behaviour continues.

And it works. Great leaders, both men and women, are constantly forged in militaries all over the world.

So how can we begin to teach leadership more thoroughly and more effectively throughout society?

Firstly, by ensuring the notion that leaders can be made is known. And secondly, by starting to apply this notion in practice at a young age – and reinforcing it constantly. Instead of taking leadership courses in late stage business classes, we should be taking leadership classes in primary and high school. Children and young adults should be exposed to leadership scenarios, giving them the experience to lead – and the knowledge that they can.

And it can’t stop there. Leadership cultivation must happen at every stage of growth; because every stage of growth comes with a number of new leadership hurdles.

This is where practices like mentoring become so critical; ongoing mentoring ensures ongoing leadership development. Most people, women included, need great mentors and a steady and constant stream of support to do anything well:

“It’s really important to work with women to ensure that they have the skills and confidence to work as entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs within companies, to become problem solvers and agents for their own careers,” says Sophia Mahfooz, Director of Global Partnerships at the San Francisco-based non-profit Girls in Tech.

Mentorship and career support can ensure that women – as well as a more diverse group of men – have the skills and confidence to assume leadership roles. Together, with the right tools and cultural understandings, we can create a burgeoning pipeline of massively diverse leaders that creates better societal outcomes.

And again, the key to fostering great leadership is to actively foster leadership.

We don’t sit back and wait for the next Einstein or Elon Musk to arrive almost serendipitously; we send children to primary school, and then to secondary school, and then to tertiary school; because the more learned every child is, the more likely we are to find the next Einstein or Elon Musk.

Leadership development should be no different.

We shouldn’t wait for the next Steve Jobs or Angela Merkel to be born. We should create the next Steve Jobs or Angela Merkel.