An article on how smartness is not the sole criteria to measure the quality of leadership.
The logic seems flawless: the more intelligent you are, the better you lead others. But according to Linda Hill, a professor of business administration at the Harvard Business School, this is not true. In a conversation with Saumya Bhattacharya and Kamya Jaiswal, she explains why a quick brain is slow to learn about leadership.
Q-Intelligent people are good at everything, why not leadership?
A-It’s because they are intelligent. Their brain works very quickly and in the process, misses the details. They see something and before analyzing it fully, assume they know the solution. This is a mistake. You have to slow down your thinking. Also, smart people can do the work of ten others by themselves. So they don’t learn to delegate.
Q-If intellect doesn’t matter, what does?
A-I often ask executives 2 questions-how do people experience you? And how do people feel about themselves when they are with you? Effective leaders make people feel better about themselves. Google did a recent study on what is needed to be a good boss. When they questioned people on what was important, interestingly, technical knowledge was the least important. People skills topped the list.
Q-These are personality traits. So are people born with leadership skills?
A. No. The research is clear that more leaders are made than born. It is hard to believe because people associate leadership with charisma; it is just one source of power. More than we believe leaders are shaped by contexts.
Q- Does it mean you can be taught to lead?
A-No, it can’t be taught. But you can learn how to lead. People acquire leadership skills from experience and from their relationships. Our role is to tell potential leaders what kind of experiences and relationships they need to become effective leaders. Individuals must take charge of their own development. I often ask my MBA students, why do you go out to find a mentor to do this or that for you? Why don’t you become the perfect prodigy so that people are attracted to mentor you?
Q-If the onus of learning is on the individual anyone who wants to can become a good leader?
A-Not really. Some people are more capable of learning to lead. For eg, those who are good at learning in social situations. In the present context, it is important to be generous to be an effective leader. You have to use collaborative and innovative methods. Effective leaders are T-shaped, they have depth and breadth. Most leaders are not well rounded; they work well in one setting and not in another. People like to think they are free agents. This is false. Your talent is very specific to the context, so is leadership.
Q-When should aspiring leaders start training?
A-It is a long journey that takes a lot of time to master. Great leaders are always learning and evolving. If someone has your dream job one of the most interesting things to do is to meet them and ask how they did it. It can be an eye-opener because a lot more time and effort goes in reaching that level than most people assume.
Q-You say experience is important. Young people don’t have that. Can they be good leaders?
A-Experience matters, but you need fresh ideas. Young people have this advantage. They can collaborate more to share experiences. Also, companies are increasingly working in new markets where they have little experience. Their executives are in a similar situation where an inclusive culture is important.
Q-Is the performance pressure on leaders too high? Often companies complain it is.
A-CEOs are under pressure to perform but they are paid to think long term. People believe that as they move up; will be freer to take decisions. Actually, it is not true. CEOs report to a board over which they have little control. A CEO who is going to make it in the long term is the one who can juggle between closing the performance gap(where you are and where you should be)and the opportunity gap(where you are and where you could be)