Leadership can be learned

Issue Number: 
Karine Jones

Americans Carol Hunter and Tim Rouse have been visiting Russia for nine years now to teach leadership out of the Center for Business Skills Development here in Moscow. A true leader is not only born, but can also be made, they say, and discuss the ins and outs of coming out on top as a true leader.

Could you name and explain some key leadership skills?

Leadership is not so much about skills, but about a way of being. Many people attempt to "learn leadership skills" but could really benefit more from reflecting on who they are and what and how they want to contribute to their organizations, families and society. However, there are some characteristics that for us suggest leadership abilities. These characteristics can come neither from training nor skill building, but they can be brought out or enhanced in a person through an intense leadership development experience such as the one we offer at the Center for Business Skills Development, the Looking Glass Leadership Program. The characteristics we look for in a leader include such things as the abilities to reflect on and learn from one’s experiences, bring meaning and purpose to life and work, produce necessary and positive results and make whatever situation one is in better than it is now, in other words, to create positive change.

Do you have laws of leadership that you usually refer to in your leadership-development programs?

Not really. We have no "laws" per se, but we do often refer to research about global leadership. As adjunct faculty for 20 years at the internationally known Center for Creative Leadership in Greensboro, North Carolina, we have had access to some of the most important and groundbreaking research. For example, we believe in and share the findings from the work of David Campbell; that the essence of leadership is relationships. Or the work of our colleague, Robert Kaplan, that leadership development is really working from the inside out.

The notion of "laws of leadership" is very dangerous, especially when consultants and educators from mature economies provide support and assistance in working with leaders and potential leaders in emerging market economies such as Russia. While there are some shared principles for market economic activity, there is no way that cultures as different as those of Russia, the United States, Japan, or Brazil can approach leadership in the exact same ways. Having worked now for nine years in Russia, we are convinced that the incredibly talented women and men in this country must develop approaches to leadership and business that fit in this cultural context.

What do you think often prevents people from releasing their leadership potential?

For most people, leadership can be developed from within. Sometimes, people do not realize their own leadership potential due to being afraid of being harshly judged by others and of doing what their hearts and minds call them to do. It takes courage to be a leader. It’s not always comfortable or appreciated by others.

What is the main function of leadership?

To significantly improve the status quo and to inspire others to join in building or contributing to continuously improving the family, the organization, the product, the service, the society, the world.

How well does someone have to know their field in order to lead others?

Generally, excellent technical or substantive knowledge, information and experience is more necessary for management. In leadership it is about knowing how to build a team, adapt to new surroundings, face new challenges, understand human dynamics and, above all, know oneself.

Could you please tell me about your training methods?

We base the substance of our work on the most trusted and valid research from many different fields such as the dynamics of emerging markets, research on brain development, how quantum physics applies to organizations, the wisdom from indigenous cultures and global trends on a variety of topics. Our work also covers the more traditional areas such as developing strategy, coaching for success, problem solving, conflict management and dozens of others. Most people are surprised when they first work with us, because they expect something more similar to management training. However, our clients usually return to work with us and also refer their colleagues and friends. Our business of nearly twenty years is based only on referrals.

Why do you think that there are so few women leaders in business and politics?

In most cultures, during the last few centuries, there have been cultural norms about the roles of women that may have kept the great talents and gifts that women have to offer the world more focused on the home. However, we believe that women are uniquely able to contribute to the development of more effective world. Increasingly we are seeing this to be the case.

Can you go into detail on trends in this area?

Our research with both leaders during the last twenty years in the U.S. shows no significant differences according to gender on any of the many questionnaires and instruments used to measure various knowledge, skills and abilities generally related to leadership.

In actual practice, more and more women are assuming significant leadership and executive positions in many organizations and countries all over the world. The issue is not about men against women or women against men. The issue is how women and men can work together to build better organizations and societies for all. We expect to see more and more women entering all areas of leadership and to also see men welcome and work cooperatively with women. It’s the partnership that will make this happen, not one gender or another alone.

What has your experience been like providing leadership training in Russia?

The Russians with whom we have worked have been excellent students. They want to learn and are generally very bright and committed to doing well. We work to deserve their trust. Our goal is to develop an appropriate learning climate where Russians do not feel judged by us, as Americans. We work to ensure that we do not suggest that we have the only right way or that we have all of the answers. We always appreciate the fast thinking and creative wit that our Russian participants bring to our work.

We juggle our work in the United States with our work in emerging markets. This means that we are also working in Russia and in China. Unfortunately, as we do not reside in Moscow, we are unable to provide the in-person follow-up conversations, coaching and so on that would like. We do our best to stay in touch via e-mail with our many Russian friends and colleagues during the months when we are not in Russia.

We feel very thankful to be able to have such opportunities. This country has a wonderful cadre of bright, energetic and usually very well-educated young women and men who have the potential to successfully manage and — if needed — transform any business enterprise. For Russia, in our opinion, this is a far more valuable resource than oil in insuring the future.