You’re No Leader — At Least Not Without Practice

If you’re making a hash of your leadership role, you may just be a beginner in need of experience.

In an interview with the New York Times that was published today, Pamela Fields, the chief executive of Stetson, the hat and apparel company, said she got off to a rocky start when she first was put in charge of a team at Avon. “There were three people in the group,” Fields recalled. “And I didn’t know anything about management. And I was awful. I made every mistake there was to make.”

Photo credit: Pink Sherbert Photography

Eventually, Fields’ employees told her about everything she was doing wrong.  “They were older and more experienced than I was, and they had a lot of spine,” Fields said. “I was humbled, and I was broken down into little pieces and reassembled as a much more intelligent operator.”

As we’ve notedPeter Drucker always stressed the importance of candor and (respectful) dissent among colleagues. He also stressed that few, if any, of us are leaders from birth. “Most leaders I’ve seen were neither born nor made,” Drucker wrote. “They were self-made. We need far too many leaders to depend only on the naturals.”

Nor should anyone try to develop a new personality to match his or her new position. “Leadership is not magnetic personality—that can just as well be demagoguery,” Drucker asserted. “It is not ‘making friends and influencing people’—that is salesmanship. Leadership is the lifting of a man’s vision to higher sights, the raising of a man’s performance to a higher standard, the building of a man’s personality beyond its normal limitations.”

[EXPAND More]In the end, Drucker said, the essence of leadership is performance. In other words, to be a good leader means being effective, and that’s something that gets learned through repetition. “Effectiveness . . . is a habit; that is, a complex of practices,” Drucker declared in The Effective Executive. “And practices can always be learned. Practices are simple, deceptively so; even a seven-year-old has no difficulty in understanding a practice. But practices are always exceedingly hard to do well. They have to be acquired.”

What does effective leadership mean to you—and how is it best acquired?[/EXPAND]