Can you learn true leadership, or can you only train yourself to pretend to be a leader?

It’s an interesting question and one I began to consider when reading a recent Sunday Times article telling how the actor Jude Law has consulted former England rugby captain Lawrence Dallaglio about an upcoming role.

Law sought advice from Dallaglio on leadership qualities, to help him portray Henry V, who led the English into Agincourt in 1415 and whose “once more unto the breach” and “we band of brothers” speeches are still quoted today.

Dallaglio led England to the rugby World Cup and, in an age when monarchs no longer lead the charge into battle, he is an iconic leader, particularly for sports fans, and will have given many an inspirational pre-match or half-time speech in his career.

Of course, there are big differences between portraying a leader in a play and authentic leadership. Whilst it is a truism that successful leaders are made, not born, it is not a trait which can be learned from scratch. However, it can certainly be nurtured if the necessary qualities and desire to develop are buried within the person.

Certain innate characteristics are either helpful or not conducive to being a strong leader. For example, somebody who is highly introverted may find it very challenging to provide inspirational leadership, particularly on an ongoing basis. Yes, they can learn personal presentation skills and other ways of acting, but leaders must maintain their personas throughout and this can be exhausting and unsustainable over a long period of time. As soon as it begins to look like an act, cracks develop in the way they are seen by those around them.

Being visionary also helps, but it is not only about having great ideas or dreams, it is about being able to drive others to follow you on the journey.

One big trait it is argued exists in every leader is what General Electric CEO Jack Welch describes as “the generosity gene”, that desire to see and help people to grow and develop, increase their earnings and thrive within their organisation. That is something which certainly can’t be learned, if it doesn’t exist within.

Coming back to Jude Law’s situation, the world of acting is full of talented people who can learn to make stunning portrayals of all manner of personality types, from Heath Ledger’s psychotic Joker, to Meryl Streep’s Thatcher. However, while we believe such portrayals, we understand that this is exactly what they are and we do not expect the actor to maintain that persona throughout their lives.

With a leader, it has to be within them to be that person, showing elements of that leadership personality, at all times. That is the difference between playing at leadership and being a leader.

Sue Alderson is a director of Azure Consulting, a Yorkshire-based specialist in leadership development. 01924 385600.

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