Yes…you are a Rocket Scientist – Research and Leadership Effectiveness

>political-pictures-moon-landing-rocket-sciencePeople who lead have fascinated social scientists for over a century, which has led to more research than you can read in a single sitting. The most critical finding about leadership is that it is both a science and an art. There are clear findings about what works but equally clear findings that knowing what works and successfully acting on that are two wildly seperate concepts.

The first general tone of leadership research is whether genetics play some part, i.e., the “born leader“. While there are certainly qualities or traits that are of value to the leader, leadership itself is a social role that is complex, to say the least. The building of skills takes place through education, conscious self-development, experience, and training. Thus, your first goal as a leader, or one who aspires to lead, is to commit to this process, including self-awareness.

Having committed to training and education as a method to achieve leadership effectiveness, does research show whether training works? Yes, but carefully defined. Dramatic change might happen. Certain “crucible events”, or as I like to call them, “a-ha moments” and “critical conversations” are clear landmarks on the path to leadership maturity. However, if this process can be given athletic-event qualities, it is a marathon, and not a sprint. Accept that leadership development is long-term and incremental.

Are there certain elements that great leaders share? Research shows that great leaders tend to balance their inspirational and visionary qualities with their concern for follower empowerment and personal development. Gallup drew on 50 years of research to identify effective leadership as investing in individual strengths, getting the right people on the team and leveraging the team to the fullest, and understanding the basic needs of the team members. John Ryan at Forbes Magazine identified three key skills – driven by an inspiring vision of excellence, excelling at communication, and exercising superior judgement.

So, starting with the end in mind, the research shows that matching some innate skills with a desire to excel, with a willingness to do the research, and to see what others have done, is a good place to start. In his excellent book, Outliers: The Story of Success, Malcom Gladwell focused on high achievers and what separated them from the rest. While many had some innate talents, their similarities were that they were willing to invest in the repetitions and time to be good at whatever they chose to do.

So, choose to be a leader!