Benjamin franklin, the famous inventor and philosopher


Benjamin Franklin, the famous inventor and philosopher, once quoted that "being ignorant is not so much a shame as being unwilling to learn" (in Bernthal and Wellins, 2006, p34). If the skills and competencies of a successful leader of change could be learned and mastered by practise then it could virtually be possible for anyone, who is willing to learn, to become a change leader. However, even though people may be eager to learn and ingrain the qualities of leadership, whether the qualities of a good leader are innate or can be learned by experience and efforts, has historically been a topic of debate. This essay aims at critically exploring the various facets of this debate to analyze whether it is really possible for anyone to be a leader of change. Before arriving at any conclusion, an analysis of the literature available on change leadership would be provided for determining the skills and competencies, which a leader of change should essentially possess. However there are numerous other qualities which assist a competent leadership, some of which will also be mentioned. Following this, the insights from the simulation game and multiproduct exercises will be presented and analyzed against the desirable skills and competencies of a leader of change to determine the extent to which such skills play a role in making a successful leader of change. Finally a critical analysis of the arguments by various scholars, regarding the acquisition and development of leadership qualities in an individual, will be presented, to help arrive at a logical conclusion, whether it is possible for anyone to be a leader of change?

Skills and competencies of a leader

Before contemplating on the skills and competencies of leaders of change, which could be numerous enough to make a person nearly perfect, it is necessary to realize that it would be imprudent to expect so much from any leader. In fact, the image of a flaw less person, a complete leader is more of a myth than a reality (Ancona et. Al., 2007). Cashman and Garpestad (2002) go to the extent of saying that a perfect leader does not exist. However, there are certain skills and competencies which are deemed necessary in a change leader and there are certain other qualities which are considered desirable in a leader. Some of the necessary skills, competencies and important qualities in a change leader are discussed in the following paragraphs.

According to Hersey and Blanchard (1988) ( in carnall, 2003) the three general skills which a leader of change should possess are to be able to evaluate the present situation and know what the reasonable possibilities in future could be; to be able to adapt his behaviour and resources according the needs of the future and be able to effectively communicate the need for change to others. However, ignoring other requirements for a while, the ultimate expectation from a leader of change is to provide results (Goleman, 2000). Another concern is that although one of the necessary things expected of leaders is that they should be result oriented (wright, 2009), it cannot be neglected that many examples of extraordinary leadership in history cannot be viewed as positive models of leadership. Hence one of the qualities of positive leadership is to provide desirable results without making a compromise with the mode of attaining those results (Bernthal and Wellins, 2006). However, despite much research on this topic, which precise leadership behaviours lead to positive results can still not be accurately demonstrated. According to Flamholtz and Randale (2008) there is no single most preferred style for leading change and Goleman (2000) proposes that there are actually six styles of leadership, namely Coercive, Authoritative, Affiliative, Democratic, Pacesetting and Coaching. Different leaders, or same leader at different occasions, practice different styles of leadership to get desirable results. However each leadership style emerges from different component of emotional intelligence and Goleman (2000) observed that apart from qualities that have conventionally been associated with leadership like having vision and determination, a leader must also possess a high level of emotional intelligence (Goleman, 2004). Higgs and Dulewicz (1999) have also emphasized the role of emotional intelligence in supporting and augmenting leadership potential (in Wren and Dulewicz, 2005). According to Goleman (2000) emotional intelligence comprises of capabilities such as self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and social skills and each of these capabilities comprise of a set of competencies as depicted in the table below:

To be a good leader a person must learn to be a good arbitrator, be open to change and be a visionary (Alden, 2006). Effective leaders are able to understand the direction in which an organisation needs to progress and can formulate a vision of the future of the organization (Wright, 2009) and according to Matthew (2009) leaders of change need to be creative as creativity may be central to the core functions of leading change including creating a vision for change, as well as for engaging and motivating people to attain it (Kotter, 1995, in Matthew, 2009). Another important competency of a leader is the ability to empathize with his team mates which is generally rewarded by loyalty of the followers for the leader (champy, 2005) and this relates to yet another necessary skill of a leader and that is to be a team player. For this a leader should also be an effective communicator. Apart from this leaders should be able to handle ambiguity in times of change (Matthew, 2009). Leading change in an organization is a time consuming process and often accompanied by minor or major disappointments. Efficient leaders of change are not those that do not encounter such trials and tribulations of failure but those who have the strength to endure such adversities and resiliency to overcome them and succeed (Dotlich, 2005).

There are yet other qualities which help in making a Great leader. Hussey (2000) draws attention towards the charismatic qualities of a leader. Unlike the traditional leaders who focus on rational processes, a charismatic leader focuses on emotions and values and such may be the influence of charismatic leadership that the followers may even be inspired to make personal sacrifices in favour of achieving the mission articulated by the leader ((Michaelis et. Al., 2009). Being introspective as well as vulnerable (19) are other desirable traits of a good leader. Goffee and Jones (2000), described four qualities of inspirational leaders, other than vision and energy, which are: selectively showing their weaknesses, relying on intuition to assess the right time and course of action, managing employees with 'tough empathy' and capitalizing on their own uniqueness. Finally for a change leader listening may sometimes be more important than speaking as it enables leaders to grasp others' feelings about the topic (Alden, 2006).

Insights from simulation game and multi-product exercises

According to Leigh and Walters (1998, p17), "the simplest view of leadership is that it helps turn plans and decisions into action". There are two main styles of leadership. First, when leaders provide their followers something which they desire in exchange for the support and cooperation of the followers. Second situation is where the leader and the followers have the same motives or expectations regarding the end results. Another argument by the authors (Leigh and Walters, 1998), is that anyone can play a leadership role if required by a local situation and depending on the situation it may even be shared by many different people.

In the simulation game, it was seen that there were people equally capable of providing the desired results, which was winning the game, still when required working in groups the dynamics of team affected and decided the results. To explain the situation, let us consider a group where there was no specific leader but each of the team members considered himself the leader and shared equal responsibility of attaining the end result. Each team member had a larger image in mind and rather than enforcing his own strategy to get his point made, the team members preferred to let go of their personal ego for the benefit of the group. The decisions were made unanimously and everyone shared the benefit when such decisions drew points as well as the damage when some decisions did not work well. At such time when a lot of decisions were going wrong, the team did not lose its calm and showed a great resiliency to ultimately come back in the game and finally win it. If we consider the winning as a leader, then it showed an excellent example of shared vision, team work, communication, as well as resiliency. This example seems to support the argument by Leigh and Walters (1998) that leadership can be shared by many different people.

Let us consider another group where there were people capable of delivering the results but there was no specific team leader, not because each team member considered himself a leader but because he could not accept any other person as a leader at the expense of his own leadership. Issues regarding trust in the leadership were obvious, as well as, lack of understanding of a shared vision and a common goal. So when the strategy of some team members fetched points it was more of a personal victory and when the strategies of the same person made the team lose points later, the other pole of the group found reasons to prove its point and thus take control of the game. Finally they lost the game. The skills of leadership required in this group was the ability to take initiative, attain trust of the team members, communication skills to manage conflicts of personal interests, build bonds and foster teamwork and collaboration. However there may be yet another case when the team has competent leaders, with full cooperation among the team members, and a shared common vision but the vision gets blurred by the deterioration or lack of emotional self awareness and self-control, which may tempt team leaders to lose focus and take inappropriate decisions at crucial times, leading to failure of the team. Similarly in the multi-product exercise, the agreed common purpose among the different groups was to negotiate with other groups for getting the justified allotment of resources for their department for the overall benefit of the organization in the efficient way. However, when the team leaders progressed with the negotiations, individual interests overshadowed the organization's benefit. Again a lack of empathy, team work and collaboration among the team leaders was visible.

On comparing the results of the simulation game and the multi-products exercises, it is evident that emotional intelligence and resilience may sometimes gain more importance over the other skills and competencies of a leader of change, like having a clear vision or charismatic personality; and a successful leader must possess a certain level level of emotional intelligence and resilience. However, this claim further leads to the eternal question, whether successful leaders are born with such skills and competencies or they can be learnt and mastered and if such skills can be acquired then can anyone become a leader of change?

Can anyone become a leader of change?

The question whether leaders are born or made has been a subject of interest and debate among scholars since a long time. However according to yeung (2007), the answer to this question lies somewhere between the two options but is more close to the 'born' bit of leadership . He argues that a major part of personality and motivation is something a person is born with and research supports the facts that personality traits such as extroversion and emotional stability have genetic components. In contrast Aquila (2004), argues that very few people are natural born leaders and while many people desire to be leaders only some are able to become effective leaders. Although skills and competencies along with traits and characteristics are important in defining an efficient leader, skills and competencies are relatively easily acquired than traits and characteristics which are innate and intrinsic to the personality of a person (Hartelt, 2000). Many studies have tried to identify the skills and competencies of a leader and while some of these are innate, others may be developed in due course of time by observing other leaders or by trial and error at the workplaces (Bernthal and Wellins, 2006). Leigh and Walters (1998), also support the view that leadership skills can be learned by work experience as well as proper training.

Due to these reasons many forms of leadership coaching have gained popularity in recent times (Bernthal and Wellins, 2006). Many large organizations take help of trained psychologists to develop emotional intelligence of their employees who may also be the budding leaders of the future (20). Inexperienced leaders may also develop new skills during hard times or when confronted by a crisis in the work place or personal life (Champy, 2005). However, Champy (2005) argues that during such situations it is the hidden qualities in the leaders that come to surface, rather than having learnt new skills . Qualities such as emotional intelligence are innate as well as can be developed. While scientific researches suggest a genetic component to emotional intelligence, psychological and developmental hint towards a role of nurture in the development of emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence also generally increases with age hence may be a result of learning from experiences. Hence if proper training programs are employed to develop such competencies then they can be learned (Goleman, 2004). Presently organizations are focussing on experience as a method of developing leadership qualities in their employees, for example, Novartis utilizes action learning as a basis for its first time manager program. This process involves the first time managers picking up an issue of concern in their jobs and working upon it in teams over a four-day period. This process is like a simulation of an actual problem solving session of real life and provides Novartis a useful technique of developing leadership on a large scale (Dotlich, 2005). Hence such well designed training programs and coaching can help an individual acquire and hone most of the desirable skills and competencies of a leader. However, even if it is accepted that an individual can acquire the skills of a leader by training and support, another question that remains unanswered is whether it is still possible for anyone to become a leader of change?

Goffee and Jones (2000) argue that many individuals possess sufficient self knowledge or the authenticity to become leaders and may not even have a slightest desire to become leaders and to take extra responsibilities . There are always people who do not want to change or improve and are satisfied by their present condition. Some people are simply more interested in their private lives than their work and even if work is their priority they may rather prefer putting their efforts at excelling in their work than taking the initiative in bringing a change. For example a person with a technical bent of mind or a scientist or researcher may well be experts within their fields but may not be comfortable leading teams or inspiring others to change when they themselves lack the motivation to come out of their comfort zone . People cannot be forced to become leaders, specially those who have no desire to lead . Forcing such people to become change leaders may adversely affect the work they are best at doing and may also instigate problems of retaining such employees in the organizations if they are not satisfied with their jobs (Yeung, 2007).

A constantly changing environment requires leaders to be receptive to new ideas as well as constant learning (Hartelt, 2000) and development of an individual's emotional intelligence cannot occur if the individual is unconcerned or apathetic to instil such changes . However people who do wish to come out of their comfort zone can be provided support in form of training and coaching to teach and refine their leadership skills . However, instead of forcing everyone through an identical developmental process, it would be more appropriate to keep into mind the personality difference of individuals as people learn in different ways and at different pace (yeung, 2007).


Although some form of leadership can always be found in any profession or field be it sports or scientific or academic research and the person performing the best in his respective field can be deemed as a leader but to be a leader of change a person may require skills and competencies which are different than just being an expert in his respective field or profession. However, ultimately a leader is expected to provide results. To attain positive results a leader may chose different leadership style suitable for different occasions have a characteristic leadership style. The most effective change leaders have an ability to capture and influence the hearts and minds of their team members and for that change leaders need to have a clear vision, a certain level of emotional intelligence and resilience among other skills and competencies. While qualities such as emotional intelligence are generally innate, they can still be learnt along with other skills and competencies, if individually directed training programs and support are provided to an individual. However a person can learn anything only if he has a sincere desire of learning and is ready to come out of his comfort zone. Apart from this, not everyone is desirous of becoming a leader or taking the extra responsibilities of leadership or willing to come out of his comfort zone. In such cases training and coaching for leadership skills would be useless. However situations might force such individuals to assume a leadership role at any point of their life, but whether they are able to become a successful leader of change, is largely questionable. Finally it can be said that every person is good at doing one or more things but expecting anyone to be able to do anything is just as doubtful as expecting anyone to become a change leader.

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