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Nothing That's Forced Can Ever Be Right

OR What I've learned from Al Stewart about leadership

In any bookstore, be it an old-fashioned brick and mortar or online, you will find hundreds of self-help “How To” guides. These can be broadly divided into 3 groups:

  • Technical - how to repair an internal combustion engine, how to cook, how to build a garden shed etc.

  • Talent-based - painting, wood-carving, writing etc.

  • Self improvement - become a better parent, a leader, a motivational speaker

The one thing is common is that if you’re not passionate about a subject nothing will come out of reading a “How To” guide about it. Even if you think it is “cool” to be a great cook or painter, if you’re not really into it no guide will do you any good.

The odd one out of the 3 is the first group - it doesn't take any special talent to cook a stew or repair a lawn-mower engine. You probably won’t become a chef or open your own garage but if you read the relevant guide and be patient enough to follow the instructions you’ll get a decent meal and a neat lawn.

This is not the case with talent-based and behaviour-changing guides and my argument is that the latter is a private case of the former.

Unlike technical guides, without the proper hand-eye coordination and dexterity chances are that you won’t be able to produce a half-decent painting even with a guide book.

Similarly, reading a "how to become a leader£ guide won’t make you one, at least not one like those you read about in newspapers and magazines. I don’t underestimate the importance of leadership - probably the most important element of successful management - but don’t try to learn it by reading a guide.

I would argue that if you have become a manager you have some leadership elements in you as otherwise why are you in your position? Perhaps you (and the executives that chose you if you are an employee) can’t define what is it about you that make you succeed but it’s there. The challenge is to identify and hone those skills rather than to try to become someone you’re not.

So instead of going to the nearest bookstore to learn how to become your idol superstar executive why not sit down and think what has brought you thus far?

Are you the lovable person that is the centre of attention the minute you enter the room? Are you the natural confidant with whom people choose to consult when they have a problem? Are you the reassuring type that manages to stay calm through any turbulence and see things through, no matter what’s been thrown at you? It doesn’t matter which of the above (or any other) or combination thereof applies so long as you realise it and focus on it. No point in walking onto a stage with a headset and trying to engage the audience if you are not a natural performer. Like the old Al Stewart song - It It Doesn’t Come Naturally Leave it.

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