There are lots of cliches about leadership. We hear that the best leaders lead from the front. That they lead by example. However, perhaps the most important role that leaders can play when it comes to creating sustainability, consistency, and growth in society is captured in Tom Peters' now famous quote: "Leaders don't create followers, they create more leaders".
The importance of continuity
Society needs continuity. Its policies, projects, initiatives, businesses - even its norms and values - need to be carried through from one generation to the next. If this doesn't happen, there is too much volatility for society to bear. We won't be able to sustain anything. We won't be able to think and act in a long-term fashion. We won't be able apply planning. We'll effectively be winging it from one generation to the next.
This is why it's so important for each generation of leaders to identify and nurture the next wave of leadership. The next group of people who will lead their companies, teams, schools, universities, communities and the country, building on what has been created before. The baton needs to be passed if we are to avoid stagnation, and grow to our full potential as communities, economies, and countries.
How do we create leaders?
There are many ways in which we can inculcate leadership - advanced education, training programmes, skills development initiatives and the like. However, there remains an age-old method that is still highly effective. In fact, it could be argued that this is the most important factor in creating true leaders. This is mentorship.
Mentorship is how we have traditionally created leaders in our societies, although we used to call it an apprenticeship. From ancient tribal customs to the most modern leadership development approaches; this has been the common thread.
Leaders will take selected people under their wings, so to speak, mentoring and grooming them to take over leadership positions one day. Knowledge and wisdom are passed on, and skills and expertise are taught. The apprentice is shown how to think like a leader. How to develop a leadership psychology. This can really only happen through interpersonal contact - working closely together in a mentor-mentee scenario.
Future leaders also need to gain as much hands-on experience as they can. It's a big step to take from only having to be responsible for your own work to being responsible for the output of others. This means giving your future leaders as many opportunities as possible to practise and develop their leadership skills.
Most important is the leadership mindset. Leadership requires a very different mental attitude. Future leaders need to learn that it is necessary to accept accountability - even if they are not directly responsible for something. They need to develop an attitude of "the buck stops here".
This is quite possibly the most important aspect of leadership that we need in this country at the moment. It's the attitude we need in our leaders if we are to face our challenges successfully - nothing ever gets done properly if everyone passes the buck. A strong leader doesn't do this.
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