Everyone has an opinion on what constitutes a good leader: the outspoken, unafraid to say what others daren’t; clear thinkers with the ability to set goals and jump hurdles to reach them; innovators, overflowing with ideas no other has thought of.
Oftentimes described as an ‘art’, some believe leadership is taught – that we all have the capability to lead if only we are guided along the correct path and provided with the necessary skillset.
Others would argue that leadership comes naturally to the lucky few born with the character traits that enable them to step into leadership roles with ease, with scientific research to support this view highlighted by Harvard Business Review. In other words, you simply have what it takes, or you don’t.
Dr Ben Silverstone is the Programme Leader for Arden University’s recently-launched Degree Apprenticeships. He is a firm believer in taught leadership.
“I believe that anyone can be taught leadership skills,” Dr Silverstone says. “It is always possible to make someone better.”
“That said, there are certain important core traits that cannot necessarily be taught,” Dr Silverstone explains. “While we can align ourselves and try to become what we think we should be, aspects such as our ethical outlook are hard wired into us, and conforming to something we are not is ultimately doomed to fail.”
So, how do you go about making a decision as important as which leader best suits your organisation?
Determining the best leader for your company
One concern regarding taught leaders would be the potential need to spend time, money and resource providing them with any training they may need, and while this may enable a natural leader to appear the most obvious recruit into a leadership role, Dr Silverstone suggests erring on the side of caution. Are taught leaders worth the investment, after all?
“Innate skills which aren’t balanced out by key learned ones can be devastating to a team. The charismatic leader that leads his team off a cliff due to poor skills is a real and present threat in many businesses.”
Hiring new talent for – or even promoting an existing staff member into – a senior leadership role is something companies should always take a considered approach towards as it has the potential to either make or break a business.
With this in mind, pinpointing the traits you feel align to your company and its values is the most critical step in identifying what you should be looking for in a future leader.
“As well as identifying your values, you need to consider how they translate into practice and how you want leaders to embody those values,” Dr Silverstone explains. “Leaders are the emissaries of the values strategy and are responsible for articulating, as well as demonstrating, them to others in the organisation.”
Rather than making this much-needed careful consideration, it is not unusual for companies to promote their most efficient or skilful workers into managerial positions – but are the skillsets required to fulfil each of these roles the same?
Skilled work versus effective leadership
While the best of employees may shine in their respective areas, it is fair to say that their existing skillset won’t necessarily deem them a suitable leader – at least, not without the necessary training.
“Being technically competent does not automatically translate into excellence in people management, and vice versa,” Dr Silverstone says. “It is all too common for organisations to promote people who are very good at their jobs, without taking time to considering whether they are the best people to lead a team.”
With research carried out by CBI and Pearson revealing many employers to be unhappy with graduates’ skill levels and attitudes towards work, it may be that young professionals simply aren’t being provided with the skillsets needed to thrive in a workplace environment, let alone climb the career ladder and secure a management position.
This proves just how essential it is to instil basic business values within students from the moment they begin their studies, and indicates a need for greater emphasis on the softer skills – think teamwork, communication, problem solving – that can ultimately determine a graduate’s level of success in a professional environment.
Many industry experts share this sentiment, with Training Magazine stating that kickstarting leadership development early on is one of the best ways to develop a great leader – so why not start that process at university level?
Are degree apprenticeships the way forward?
Launched earlier this year, Arden University’s degree apprenticeships have been created with the identifiable skills gap in mind.
“We deliver programmes that are highly workplace-relevant, partly because they teach transferable skills and competencies that students are assessed on,” Deputy CEO, Victoria Stakelum, explains. “They are assessed on their ability to creatively problem-solve or communicate effectively.”
“Knowledge becomes redundant in a matter of moments these days,” Victoria adds, “where as if we give people skills and the capability to learn, then they can be far more effective in the workplace. That is what we are all about.”
With degree apprenticeships giving students the opportunity to gain the skills and attitudes employers are eager for them to demonstrate, at the same time as studying to complete their qualification, it seems inevitable that this mode of learning can provide a way to move forward.
Stacey Allen is the Director of Corporate Partnerships at Arden University. “Here in the UK, we have a huge problem with skills shortages, especially in STEM subjects,” she says. “Demand massively outweighs supply and it has been that way for years. That has a knock-on effect in terms of our businesses, their productivity and their ability to recruit and retain talented staff and future leaders.”
“With employers and the government getting involved in creating and designing these vocational programmes, they have been specifically set up to address skills shortages. Degree apprenticeships are a really viable solution to this problem and we need to act now.”