Developing Leadership: A Question of Character

IESE's Alberto Ribera: "Above all, a leader is someone guided by virtues, and virtues are essentially habits that can be developed." | Illustration: Norman Gracia

IESE’s Alberto Ribera: “Above all, a leader is someone guided by virtues, and virtues are essentially habits that can be developed.” | Illustration: Norman Gracia

If you were to approach 10 business conference attendees and ask them to define leadership, you could feasibly come away with 10 different responses. Considering how much the management world has evolved over the years, this wouldn’t come as a surprise.

As recently as the 1990s, hierarchical organizational structures were the norm in most global firms, and exerting power was more prevalent than empowering employees. Fast-forward a generation and we find a radically different scene. Cultural, technological and socio-demographic shifts – not to mention a protracted global financial crisis – have given rise to a new brand of leadership, one defined by integrity, empathy, trust and meaningful impact.

These may seem like lofty, unattainable ideals to some, which leads to the question: can leadership be cultivated? According to Prof. Alberto Ribera of IESE’s Department of Managing People in Organizations, the answer is a resounding “yes.”

“Without a doubt, some people possess intrinsic personality traits that can facilitate the path to leadership, but by and large, leaders are made, not born. Above all, a leader is someone guided by virtues, and virtues are essentially habits that can be developed.”

These are surely encouraging words to new managers, as well as to experienced executives who seek to enhance their leadership skills and, in turn, maximize team performance.

So what’s the foundation of great leadership? The first order of the day may be summarized by the well-known Greek expression “know thyself”: to lead others, you must first know how to lead yourself. This process often requires taking a step back to assess your unique personality traits, strengths and areas for improvement.

Multi-rater or 360-degree assessments also help managers gain a deeper sense of self-awareness. By incorporating feedback from higher-ups, co-workers and direct reports, these evaluations deliver objective insights on a manager’s effectiveness as a leader and eliminate any potential blind spots.

Another common challenge: striking the right balance between achieving personal job objectives and ensuring that team members reach their full potential. As Prof. Ribera explains, “Good leaders are closely attuned to their team members and strongly committed to tapping their greatest potential. They are adept at cultivating a climate of trust and leadership style that empowers, inspires and engages others.”

IESE’s “Developing Leadership Competencies” focused program is aimed at senior-level managers and human resource professionals who seek to advance leadership competencies that improve personal and organizational effectiveness.

Next editions of the program will be held at IESE’s Madrid campus next July 1-4, 2019.

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