"Leaders are born" or "leaders are made"—two very different philosophies with significant practical applications. If one endorses the philosophy that leaders are born with their talents and one is not able to "learn" to be a leader, we as an industry can stop discussing leadership development and education. Either you have it or you don't. If that is all there is, there is no need to study leadership theory and methodology.
On the other hand, if you believe leaders are made or further developed, read on. There is no question some individuals are blessed with natural leadership ability. However, at some level a leader lives within every person. He or she may rarely surface, but can emerge when the right situational factors or stressors are applied. Proper preparation, education and experiences (the making of the leader) will make it easier for the leader in all of us to emerge and maximize opportunities as they are presented.
The U.S. Air Force defines leadership as "the art of influencing and directing people in such a way that will win their obedience, confidence, respect and loyal cooperation in achieving common objectives."1So to lead, one must be able to influence others to follow their direction. Some may try to accomplish this through power of position or intimidation. While this may achieve compliance at a particular point in time, it is typically not considered leadership. There is a significant difference between willingly following a leader and complying with an order. In the latter, the figurehead has not motivated the individual through inspiration, but simply forced compliance. The individual complying will rarely do more than the minimum to accomplish the task and avoid punishment. By comparison, the inspired follower often supersedes the expectations of the leader, and together they accomplish significantly more.
So what makes a leader? Stephen M.R. Covey, in his book The Speed of Trust, describes leadership as a product of both character traits and specific competencies.2 He describes the four cores of credibility:
- Integrity: Are you congruent?
- Intent: What's your agenda?
- Capabilities: Are you relevant?
- Results: What's your track record?
If one has the right character traits (integrity and intent) and competencies (capabilities and results), they are well on their way to becoming a great leader. However, another critical element is necessary to inspire others to follow: The leader must be able to build and maintain relationships. The actions of leaders will be a greater influence than just words. Covey describes 13 key behaviors to build better relationships and develop high-trust leaders:
Quality character traits, industry-specific technical capabilities, and the ability to develop excellent relationships through model behavior comprise the right recipe for a high-performing leader. The extent to which a leader must possess these core competencies will vary depending on their position within their organization and the environment in which they function. An executive officer leading an organization in crisis will face different challenges than one in a stable workplace. A field supervisor will likely face different situations and opportunities to portray leadership than the executive officer.
At the National EMS Management Association's Leadership Competencies forum, held in Las Vegas in late 2010, a stakeholder group of EMS leaders attempted to classify standard leadership levels for EMS services and identify core competencies for each. After considerable discussion, the group agreed to three levels: