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The Boomer Bulletin - 2015
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Are great leaders born or made?

Posted By Scott Morrill, Thursday, June 11, 2015

Scott Morrill A recently published study about the effect of the dopamine transporter gene DAT1 by Wendong Li, assistant professor of psychological sciences at Kansas State University, "found a 'mixed blessing' for workers who hold workplace leadership positions.”

According to the University’s press release, “the right genes may help you become an organization's next president or CEO. But the same genes may also hinder your leadership path.”

The gene is important in the “reward and motivation systems in humans” and the study found that people who had the “10-repeat allele in the dopamine transporter were most likely to engage in adolescent mild rule-breaking behavior,” a behavior that is “positively correlated with the chance for you to become a leader in adulthood.”

However, the study also points out negative aspects associated with the same gene and supports the idea that there isn’t any single formula for developing great leadership skills.

"In the long run, we are advocating more individualized and customized management practices, which allow people to choose the type of work environment that fits their individual characteristics," Li said. "Customizing workplace practices is good for employee learning, development and leadership potential. Ultimately, it is good for employee performance and well-being, which in turn may enhance organizational effectiveness."

So if you’re looking for the ten most important skills or characteristics needed for a leadership position, there’s good news; leaders come in all types of packages.  While a leader on the battlefield may need to exhibit a higher level of discipline and courage, a leader in the boardroom may need to exhibit a higher willingness to develop buy-in and be open to change.  My point is, everyone has the potential to lead.

Why is leadership an important topic to the accounting profession?

Leadership is of special interest to two groups in the accounting profession.  Emerging Leaders view leadership as an academic fast track to a successful future.  Owners and managers view it as a tool for production, retention and succession.  In both cases, the distinction between leadership and management becomes blurred.

In my view, there is one characteristic that truly defines a leader; does the leader have willing followers?  There’s a different word to describe “a person who authoritatively prescribes conduct, usage, etc.” and that word, according to, is dictator.  The distinction is that a willing follower is able to exercise some degree of choice.

The Department of Labor’s Job Openings and Labor Turnover Summary, released June 9, 2015, indicates that “the number of job openings rose to 5.4 million on the last business day of April, the highest since the series began in December 2000.”  At this time, the voluntary quit rate is still relatively low but we’ve been talking for years about the looming impact of the graying of the Baby Boomer generation.  Although the recession certainly delayed it, the economic recovery is now removing some of those barriers to retirement.  Job openings create choice and when employees have choice, leadership becomes a more important trait.

Which leadership skills can be learned?

Leadership skills are often classified in one of two ways; soft skills and hard skills.  Soft skills are perhaps more difficult to quantify when compared to hard skills.  Also known as “people skills” these relate to emotional intelligence and are often thought of as a personality trait instead of a learned skill.  However, learning and practicing communication and team building skills will help you develop a reputation of being respectful, fair, trustworthy, honest and supportive.

Hard skills relate to things like competency and expertise.  In addition to learning to perform your job well, learning project and change management skills will help you develop a reputation of being visionary, focused, patient and decisive.

As the study on DAT1 indicates, these “traits” are shaped by our environment.

Now look at the sample agenda for The P3 Leadership Academy.  It’s a three year program that develops skills in self-management, team management and firm management.  You learn about communication techniques and personal management techniques and then you have a year to put them into practice before you move to team management.  Likewise, in year two you learn about team management and have a year to perfect your skills before you move to year three – firm management.

Like any other skill, leadership can be learned and improved with practice.  Learn more about how we can help you with The P3 Leadership Academy or The Emerging Leader Track at the 2015 BTC Summit.

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