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The flair of leaders is not teachable


Read the full article in Dutch in Management Team.

PA management expert, Hans Houmes, has written a byline article in Management Team in which he questions whether the flair of a good leader can be learned.

Hans says: “There is no scientific proof for how good leadership is developed within an organisation, but there are plenty of organisational experts who are convinced that leadership is a trainable competency. According to them, good leadership is developed based on past experience and leaders who are failing to learn from the past are no good.”

Hans highlight how the Royal Airforce (RAF) recruits 12-year-old cadets based on personality attributes that good leaders should have. The children are exposed to stress and complex decisions, and only those who show high potential, with the characteristics of a good leader, are allowed to follow the leadership training when they are 17-years-old.

Hans explains: “The tradition of the RAF shows that selecting people based on a set of characteristics could be a successful approach in developing good leaders. But there are experts who believe leadership is more a mindset and an attitude – not a skill. Good leaders have a high level of self-consciousness and know how their presence is perceived in public. However, self-consciousness alone will not make a good leader. In the public debate around leadership, it is made clear that not only a high level of IQ, but also emotional intelligence (EQ), is important. This raises the question of whether EQ is trainable or not.

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“At some companies they try to train EQ and the emotional impact people have on others”, Hans continues. “Although this type of training is definitely valuable, flair is important. Good leaders have a clear vision and passion for what they do – they have the capacity to be heard by others even if this causes resistance.

“This kind of flair can’t be trained. It contains a complex set of personal characteristics that people are born with. It is questionable if this set of characteristics is genetically identifiable and transferable to later generations so we should accept that only a few have the capabilities to become a great leader.”

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