Greetings GAMA members and friends!
Welcome to the first edition of the GAMA Canada Newsletter. The Board of Directors of GAMA International Canada is very excited about the upcoming year. Based on member feedback, we have been working diligently to enhance the value of GAMA. As a result, we have very exciting intiatives coming your way!
This newsletter will be a great resource for you regarding these initiatives, upcoming activities, and special events. As well, this newsletter will be a source of information and ideas, through our education partners, and through timely articles, that will help you address your day-to-day opportunities and challenges as a leader of your organization.
Mark your calendars for LAMP 2007 which is coming to Toronto in March 2007!! GAMA Canada is very pleased to host GAMA's International Leadership and Management Program (LAMP) in Toronto next year. It's the first time GAMA International has held the conference outside of the United States. This outstanding program is something you will want to make sure you attend.
Key Traits of Leaders
“Leadership is like beauty, it’s hard to define, but you know it when you see it.” An elegant phrase that says a lot in a few words. I wish it were mine. It’s not; it was first said by Warren Bennis, Distinguished Professor of Business Administration at the University of Southern California, who has written some very popular books on leadership.
Industrial/organizational psychologists have been trying to define leadership for at least 50 years. There have been theories based on the ways leaders behave. Such theories postulate that leaders must be technically skilled at their jobs and able to motivate and encourage those with whom they work. There have also been attempts to describe leadership in terms of personality traits, e.g., good leaders are dominant or extroverted or achievement-oriented or conscientious or all of the above. Others have wondered if maybe this elusive definition of leadership lies in the interaction between the characteristics of leaders and the specific situation or circumstances in which the leader operates. Still others submit that leadership consists of exceptional charismatic traits that cause followers to become particularly devoted and loyal.
The types of leadership theories I’ve mentioned above all relate in some fashion to good outcomes such as improvements in employee performance, job satisfaction and work attendance. The problem is, if all these different theories of leadership are associated with the same positive outcomes, then obviously no one definition can have all the answers. It’s as though they’re all measuring a different part of the same thing. When talking to people about the nature of leadership and our ability to define it, I ask them to imagine a large jig-saw puzzle. We have an idea of what its shape will be when it’s finished, but we still have many pieces to add before we know what the final picture will look like.
Despite the fact that there isn’t agreement by scholars on a theoretical definition of leadership, the sun still comes up on the real world every morning. Companies still need to hire and promote new leaders. Organizations often come to the Centre for Leadership Excellence for advice on their choices of candidates for leadership positions. We get asked, “Given what you know about our company and its needs and given an opportunity to meet with and assess our candidates, which person will be the best choice for us?” Since there is no definition of leadership that we can all agree on, you might ask what we do when we’re asked such questions? The answer is we use what is known from research on the nature of leadership and the behaviour of leaders and combine it with many years of practical experience working with and observing people in leadership roles.
There’s not enough space here to consider all of the characteristics important in a leader, but here are a few that we counsel our clients to look for and develop. First of all, leaders have to be reasonably bright. They don’t have to be Nobel Prize candidates, but they need to have the intellectual capabilities to analyze complex problems and situations. Second, leaders need good social skills so they can relate well to people. It’s a big part of a leader’s job. Third, leaders need to be effective communicators. This doesn’t mean the ability to give an entertaining and informative luncheon speech, although that doesn’t hurt. It does mean the ability to set clear, achievable, demanding goals and to give appropriate and timely feedback on progress toward goal attainment. An equally important part of communication is the ability to listen effectively. Listening and then acting on what you hear to meet the needs of those that follow you is indispensable to the effective leader. Fourth, leaders need to know not only how to delegate but also when to delegate. Sometimes it’s important to keep a firm hand on the reins and sometimes it’s important to give some slack. Another leadership quality is flexibility and adaptability to changing circumstances. As we learned last year in New Orleans, it’s easy to be a leader when the sun is shining. In order to be effective, leaders also need to be confident in their abilities. This doesn’t mean that leaders will never have doubts. In fact, I wouldn’t trust a leader who hasn’t been unsure of the next step from time to time, and leaders who have all the answers make me nervous. But after doing the necessary analysis, leaders need to be confident that they are making the best decision possible under the circumstances and then move on.
After reading this and considering whether you or your organizational team members have these qualities, you may be wondering whether leadership can be learned. The answer is yes. There are born leaders, but they are few and far between. For the rest of us, it’s a combination of learning new skills and practicing them until we get them right. Companies need to provide employees with the opportunities to develop these leadership skills if they want a competitive edge. Helping individuals and companies improve personal and organizational leadership potential is what the Centre for Leadership Excellence does, through its own training programs and through combined efforts with our partners, such as GAMA’s Chartered Management Professional program.
Richard Allon is the Director of the Centre for Leadership Excellence at the Sobey School of Business at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Comments or questions? Contact: Editor, Rod Burylo