We have had the opportunity to interview many senior managers within the Financial Technology and Market Data sectors and have seen the good and the bad. There are many good leaders out there but few are truly remarkable. What is it that makes an exceptional leader truly successful, and importantly, is it possible to become one?
Are leaders born or manufactured?
The age-old contention of whether leaders are born or made is certainly alive and well and has stimulated heated debate the world over.
Leaders possess an innate ability to attract people and inspire others who want to be like them. These characteristics are often first exhibited in the playground as they adopt a natural leadership role amongst peers. Leadership qualities may be evident from youth but there’s no reason mature aspirational leaders can’t learn new tricks (or not so old, as the case may be)!
Erika Andersen, founding partner of Proteus International, believes “leadership capability falls along a bell curve. Some people are, indeed, born leaders. These folks at the top of the leadership bell curve start out very good, and tend to get even better as they go along. Then there are the folks at the bottom of the curve: that bottom 10-15% of people who, no matter how hard they try, simply aren't ever going to be very good leaders. They just don't have the innate wiring.”
She goes on to explain how the majority of us live in the middle of the bell curve, and states her belief that this is where the real potential for making leaders lies. “Most folks who start out with a modicum of innate leadership capability can actually become very good, even great leaders.”
Characteristics Typical of Leaders
“To motivate your team to achieve the highest levels of performance (and create an extraordinary organization in the process), here are (some of) the qualities you should model every day:”
Capable leaders tend to lead by sharing a compelling vision of the future. Others are inspired to follow because they identify with this vision and also want to strive to attain it. Leaders teach people by providing training about the things that are possible and opening their eyes to greater possibility. Leaders are generally “big picture”thinkers, who possess high competency in strategic planning and thinking beyond what others may perceive as limitations. These people are invaluable in the workplace.
Leaders generally have high energy and drive and a keen desire to achieve their goals, as well as bring other people on the journey to achieve broader goals at a team or organizational level. They instill a sense of purpose in others and leave them feeling motivated to perform at their best. They don’t accept traditional norms as restrictions and often encourage those around them to look at situations differently, thus continuously improving the way things are done. If privileged to be working with a successful leader, you’ll probably find yourself thinking “There’s never a dull moment!” Research has proven that the best leaders inspire others through the exertion of influence, not authority.
What is an influencer?
Social media has been responsible for increased usage of the term “influencer” in recent years, but what is an influencer and how do you become one? The website ‘Influencer Analysis’ describes an influencer as “an individual who has above-average impact on a specific niche process.”Therefore, influencers are critical to the success of an organization, and having strong influence is one of the key characteristics of a successful leader.
The latest research in behavioral science indicates an answer to the contentious question of whether a leader should be seen to be lovable or strong. “Projecting ‘warmth’ is the key to having influence…leaders who are rated low on likability have about a one in 2,000 chance of being regarded as effective. Only after they’ve achieved likability should they focus on displaying competence, an equally critical characteristic.”
This very same research concluded that what matters most “isn’t where someone ranks within a company’s formal hierarchy but how well that person understands and mobilizes the informal networks needed to effect change.”
The Theory of Transference
The theory of “transference” was first explained by Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis. He used this theory to explain how a follower’s unconscious motivation works, and in this case, the follower can be likened to an employee who “follows” a good leader.
After a number of years in practice, Freud recognized a pattern that many of his patients fell in love with him. He also recognized “his patients’ idealization of him couldn’t be traced to his own personal qualities. Instead, he concluded, people were relating to him as if he were some important person from their past—usually a parent. In undergoing therapy—or in falling in love, for that matter—people were transferring experiences and emotions from past relationships onto the present. Freud thought the phenomenon was universal. He wrote, “There is no love that does not reproduce infantile stereotypes,” which, for him, explained why so many of us choose spouses like our parents.”
How does this relate to the workplace? Research has also shown that this transference can also be closely linked to productivity. As an example, if an employee believes her leader will care about her in the way that a parent would, she will perform at her best in order to achieve this reward. She will continue to work hard in order to maintain these positive feelings and obviously this high performing behavior brings increased productivity for her leader and greater organization.
Considering all the information above, it can therefore be concluded that although many great leaders possess an innate ability to lead, it’s also possible to build upon this capability and become the person others want to follow.
Hasan Gulfaraz is an Associate Director at Datasearch Consulting, a leading executive recruitment firm specialising in the Financial Technology & Data sectors.
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