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  • Writer's picturePhil Cole

Leadership is Learned. So is a Lack of Leadership.

Leadership brings out the best in others. Leaders do so by guiding others to behaviors that are productive for the team and its shared goal. Leadership creates positive feelings, supports innovation and learning, and expands the contributions of each individual within the group.

But not all people have this ability.

When a supervisor or manager lacks leadership, he or she often uses power to force others to act in a certain way. These power and control behaviors are the opposite of leadership in that they create discomfort and negative emotions, dictate processes and outcomes, and diminish individual autonomy.

The goals of these two approaches are the same - to bring about performance in others - but the experience and outcomes are exactly the opposite.

I suspect that most of us have experienced managers and supervisors who use power and control and we remember the uniquely painful experience of that approach. Where leadership builds feelings of belonging, value, and worth, power and control build isolation, fear, and worthlessness. Where leadership creates opportunities to learn and grow, power and control create paralysis and withdrawal. Where leadership allows members to accomplish more than they believed possible, power and control limit performance to specific, narrow expectations.

But these managers and supervisors did not arrive at power and control because they were bad people or wanted to do harm.

Just as leadership is learned, these power and control behaviors are also learned. The leaderless manager has observed others using these behaviors, which made the behaviors accessible. The behaviors have also been practiced over time, which makes them more easily performed. In addition, the leaderless manager lacks knowledge and experience in performing alternative, positive behaviors. The result is that power and control is the only obvious way to influence others' behavior, which is the responsibility of this individual's position as a supervisor or manager. The leaderless manager uses power and control because it is the only way he or she has learned.

Successful leaders experience the same process of learning but with a different outcome. These leaders have observed and therefore become aware of behaviors that produce positive outcomes, likely in contrast to power/control behaviors and the unproductive outcomes they cause. In their interactions with team members, these leaders chose and practice positive behaviors, which develops their ability to imagine and try new behaviors that produce similar outcomes in different situations. Where the leaderless manager applies control to an increasingly wide range of situations, the leader will apply leadership.

Together, these facts show us that the use of power and control is not generally a conscious, deliberate decision, but rather a consequence of a series of past events and the process of learning. A person's approach can be changed given two things: enough individual willpower, and external support for learning to overcome the existing pattern of behavior. Without these factors, however, the use of power and control behaviors is likely to continue.

ReDefine's approach allows us to grow more quickly into the leadership behaviors we need for our position, whatever type of leadership it might be. By revealing the underlying learning process and human needs within a group, we allow leaders to find and develop behaviors that meet those needs more rapidly than mere exposure within the world. Where some leaders have never had the opportunity to learn leadership, our tools cut down the hurdles of learning and expand the range of opportunities to practice, reflect, and improve.

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