by Benjamin Breier, ForbesBooks author of “Intentional Disruption: Leadership Lessons in Healthcare, Business, and Beyond“
It’s an ongoing debate: Are great leaders made or born?
It’s a bit of a trick question. The answer is both. One study shows that leadership is only 30 percent genetic and 70 percent learned. While cases have been made that both nature and nurturing are responsible, those who aspire to high-level leadership positions should never stop learning or developing the traits and skills required.
Some people may have a slight genetic edge, but everyone can sharpen their leadership skills. A career in management or in the C-suite demands hands-on experience and a steady improvement of leadership qualities throughout that process. One needs to be proactive in their approach if they want to keep ascending, inspiring others, and driving their companies toward continual success.
Here are a few tips to develop into a good leader:
Stay true to your core values.
There is no straight line of success on the way to the top. Challenges, setbacks and disruptions happen, and budding leaders need to be anchored to their core values as a strong foundation to weather storms and make good decisions.
When you’re aligned with your underlying values and the company’s mission, you will remain centered to handle difficult situations and focused on considering all factors, from the human side to the financial. Your core values become your North Star. Regardless of how brilliant or savvy an otherwise great leader may be, he or she is nothing without integrity and solid core values.
Developing discipline in your professional and personal life is essential to becoming an effective leader. It’s easier said than done. Almost everyone will talk a big game when it comes to being disciplined, but very few people actually put in the hard work. It’s what separates the good from the great leaders in business, sports, and life. And there is nothing genetic about one’s willingness to work hard. It’s a conscious choice that anyone can make.
Take on more responsibilities.
The path to becoming a senior-level executive includes a willingness to navigate new twists and turns that other aspirants are reluctant to embrace. You need to show the initiative and the capability to take on extra responsibility, and your supervisor doesn’t have to walk you through everything it entails. If you can take work off your boss’ desk, you become more valuable. If you want to grow, you have to step out of your comfort zone. Sure, it can cause stress, but it’s an amazing learning opportunity. Again, it’s a conscious choice – it has nothing to do with your DNA.
Play offense, not defense.
Today’s feverishly competitive business world is filled with disruption. Companies of all shapes and sizes covet proactive leaders who know how to shake things up, to rewrite the rules, and to take the fight to competitors, rather than sit back and wait to be punched in the face. Running a business is not about staying back on your heels and playing defense. It requires courage and judgment. You must recognize opportunities and take them when the timing and risk/reward profile is just right.
Work on your soft skills.
Soft skills – like empathy, self-awareness, and authenticity – are hard to develop but critical for leaders in today’s unforgiving and unpredictable business world. The good news is that everyone can improve their soft skills. Again, it just takes discipline and hard work. Everyone should create a personalized leadership development plan – with two or three key goals – and update it every single year.
Benjamin Breier, ForbesBooks author of “Intentional Disruption: Leadership Lessons in Healthcare, Business, and Beyond“, is former CEO of Kindred Healthcare LLC. He serves on the board for the Federation of American Hospitals, is a member of the Wall Street Journal CEO Council, and is a founding member and chairman of the board of the Louisville Healthcare CEO Council. He oversaw multiple acquisitions that turned Kindred into the largest provider of post-acute healthcare services in the country.