Leading Results director Anita Douglas examines whether today’s business leaders need to earn their stripes – or whether they can just jump-in and fight for them.
In today’s fast-paced world we see leaders come and go more quickly than ever within the corporate environment. In the self-made arena, new leaders are appearing at an ever more rapid rate.
In this piece, I explore the differences today between the developed leader; brought up and trained through a traditional organisation’s development programme, versus the self-made leader; those who have given themselves the title. Both have different skills, some transferable, and many that are learnt along the journey.
Today the question ‘are leaders born or made’ has been replaced with, ‘are leaders made by others, or are they self-made’?
Developing a leader in a traditional setting is something that usually comes with the support of the corporate environment; an organisation providing the necessary surroundings and operational practices. Conversely, the self-made leader comes armed only with the skills and business they have built, or are building, and a hand-picked team they only have themselves to thank for.
It’s true that a self-made leader’s success is sometimes the result of years of business building and hard work. With that comes experientially-developed leadership skills and the respect of their teams. Others, however, particularly in technology-led businesses, seem to appear overnight, are impossibly young and in place of experience have instead and idea and a passion for what they want to achieve.
Take Mark Zuckerberg, who is the world’s second youngest self-made billionaire. Early in his career, he was described as being ‘without social and moral skills.’ Fast forward a little and by 2013, his company Facebook was winning the ‘Employee Choice Award’ for the Best Company to Work for. So what drove it? That seismic shift wasn’t the result of years and years of development. It can be distilled down to two fundamental elements; mindset and journey.
Once you take away the technology, product or service they are building, you can observe that self-made leaders are pressed from a remarkably similar mould. Usually surrounded by a network of like-minded entrepreneurs, they have incredible clarity of mind supported by a relentless personal drive.
This is the single most important factor that influences their ability to succeed – their belief in themselves. In early-stage businesses, there are no training programmes, no managers mentoring them and no one to show them the precise direction. It is a private journey, sometimes very lonely and it requires them to pro-actively seek support, guidance and inspiration, sometimes from more unorthodox quarters.
Aside from more traditional leadership support approaches, these individuals often rely heavily on each other, operating more like a peer-to-peer matrix of support to replace hierarchical guidance.
Their fierce determination drives them relentlessly forward, finding solutions and answers that help them to develop their business and themselves. Failure is a part of that development but simply serves as another learning opportunity that they move forward from. Their progression is a direct result of their clarity of purpose and the ‘end game’ they have in sight at all times.
Whilst not always the case, the journey that these self-made leaders are on plays a large part in having a motivated, aligned workforce who are engaged with the business and its goals. That’s because we often find such leaders in charge of disruptive, ‘new tech’ businesses that are not only doing something different, they are doing it in a completely different way.
The chance to be part of a business that will be ‘the first company to ever xxx…’ has a serious pull for staff and personal motivations align with company goals far more readily than in a long-established corporate environment.
Overlap that with some of the flexibility and non-financial work benefits these start-ups champion (think time to work on your own projects, self-regulated holiday etc.) and it’s not difficult to see why leaders of these companies are held in high regard by their employees.
Ultimately, it would be fair to conclude that high performing self-made leaders have still developed that competence through the acquisition of skill and knowledge but the determining factor that enables their accelerated progression is their attitude.
We know this because we work with some of those people to develop that competence and confidence to better lead their own businesses to achieve their dreams and goals. The fundamentals are the same, they are just on a quicker journey.
In my next blog, I will share with you my top tips for those leading their own journey from my experiences gained as a business leader and through my experience of helping others.
References: Forbes, brianhasebbauer.com, theselfemployed.com
Read more: Top tips to becoming a great leader