“Leaders are made, not born. But leadership cannot really be taught. It can only be learned.”
– Harold Geneen,
former CEO of ITT Corporation, the world’s first modern multi-national”
Perhaps a few leaders are born, but we agree with Mr Geneen: most people learn to lead. The question then becomes: how do they learn? And how can this learning process by dramatically accelerated?
To answer these questions, we interviewed over 60 leaders around the world, ranging in age from 30 to 75, across all sectors and industries. In our interviews, we asked them to identify the times in their life when their development as a leader was at its steepest. We then zoomed in to understand exactly what they were doing at that time, and how that made their learning experience so intense.
Next we compared these experiences to identify the common elements, and found three that were clearly present in almost every case.
These three are:
Uncharted Territory: When you take on a huge challenge that is fundamentally different than anything you have tackled before – and at the outset you have no clear idea of how to achieve your mission – then you are forced to lead in a very different way.
Autonomy: When you find yourself out on your own, with no one to fall back on, no one to tell you what to do, and no one to pick up the pieces if you screw up. You have the freedom to design and pursue your own approach to the problem, and the freedom to fail.
Action Orientation: When you have to make lots of decisions on very limited information. When you have to move quickly, and inevitably you make plenty of mistakes, but things are changing so fast that no one mistake is fatal.
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