Becoming a Leader By Pepper de Callier

Part two of a four part series

How does one actually become a leader?  Do you have to be lucky enough to be in the right gene pool?  Can one learn how to be a leader?     

The reason there are no direct answers to these questions is simple: there are many different types of leaders in this world and just as many different types of situations calling for different personality types, skills and abilities.  In fact, someone who is a good leader in one specific situation such as a ramp-up, in which motivating the troops to storm the marketplace and achieve rapid growth might fail miserably in a turnaround environment.  Similarly, someone who is a talented leader in a highly technical environment might struggle in high-touch environments such as sales.

So, as you see, there are many different types of situations, each with its own idiosyncratic requirements, so many in fact, that to make blanket statements about what leadership is and who is a good leader can become very difficult to make and defend.

However, I have pressed our panel of leadership experts (their brief biographies are in last week’s column, which you can access on-line here) to give us their thoughts on some key aspects of leadership which will increase the likelihood of one  “releasing” the leadership potential in one’s self and learn some of the basics.  And, since leadership is an evolving process versus a static point one reaches, we’ll also discuss the importance of continuous learning and personal growth—being a leader requires an ongoing commitment.

Rule number one for leadership according to Ron Gerevas is to know yourself.  “A leader needs to know him or herself—both strengths and weaknesses—because this knowledge will guide not only your personal development, but it will also guide your thinking as you select subordinates.  You need to surround yourself with people who have strengths that offset your weaknesses in order to be an effective leader.”   Dr. Meyer supports this and adds that, “It is important to know who you are not just through your own reflection, but through the eyes of others whom you trust.  A mentor, or trusted friend, can help you see your strengths and weaknesses objectively, which will help you assess in what areas change needs to occur.  You must start by being your own leader and chart a course that will diminish your weaknesses.”

Another key element is that you really have to want to be a leader.  You have to have a strong desire to learn the skills, take the risks of learning new things and accepting responsibility—this is stretching and reaching out beyond your comfort zone—these are the building blocks of the self confidence that is so important when you lead others.  By learning new skills and accepting responsibilities you not only increase your value to the team and to the organization, but you increase the likelihood that you will be selected for even greater roles of responsibility.  This is an excellent way to create a pathway to leadership.

“Try to achieve more than is expected of you.  Set ambitious goals for yourself.  However,” cautions Tomas Sabatka, “respect fair play—true champions like to compete on level playing fields and to win in an honest way.”  He goes on to say that he looks for not only a positive attitude in the people he is evaluating for leadership positions, but a true “win-win” attitude, one in which a person is also happy with the success of others.  Jealousy is a very destructive emotion and it reveals a fatal flaw in those who would lead others.

Senator Schwarzenberg* sums up the process involved in becoming a leader quite succinctly: “Don’t think it’s going to be easy. Yes, you have to take intelligent risks and accept challenges, but you also have to be able to face adversity and learn how to cope with loss.  There are times when you have to be tough emotionally—within yourself—and keep moving forward.  You sometimes have to accept that you may have lost a battle, but you must have faith in yourself that you will win the war.”

In closing I would recommend a wonderful book written by Dr. Warren Bennis, one of the world’s most prominent authorities on leadership, titled On Becoming a Leader.  I don’t think Bennis’s book has been translated into Czech yet.  I hope it will be.  It is one of my favorites.  “I read everything about leadership I can get my hands on!”, good advice about continuing education from one of the best leaders I have had the honor to work with, Ron Gerevas.

Next week: Honing your skills and becoming a mature leader.

Good luck on your way up!

About the Author: Pepper de Callier is one of the most respected senior executive coaches and authorities on leadership in Europe. Learn more about him at

Follow Pepper on YouTube: A new inspirational video message is posted every Monday - Common Sense Wisdom: Thoughts to Live By. 

*These interviews took place before Mr. Schwarzenberg’s presidential campaign.

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