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In the field of leadership, the perennial question has been, “Are great leaders born or made?” And the answer from clinical and organizational psychology is that it's a little of both: innate talent, bolstered and refined by hard work, proper training, and practical experience. Whether dealing with the day-to-day running of a complex organization or handling an emergency that requires you to make critical command decisions, the following represent the basic psychological skill-set of effective, dynamic leaders in any organization.
• Communication. This involves both input and output. The effective leader quickly and accurately assimilates what others tell him/her from a morass of often rushed, confused, and conflicting information, and is able to translate complex plans and strategies into specific, focused directives.
• Team management. The effective leader coordinates the efforts of individual team members into a united force. He/she is able to delegate responsibilities as needed, but can quickly jump in and take personal control where necessary.
• Decision making under stress. In a crisis situation, the effective command leader must be able to think clearly and make critical split decisions under fire. This requires the ability to tune out the noise, take in and sort through the relevant environmental data, and come up with a useful plan of action.
• Planning, implementing, and evaluating. These are the cognitive skills required to quickly and efficiently size up a situation, weigh the options for effective action, implement those actions, and then accurately assess their effects on the overall situation. For superior command leaders, this process seems to operate in a seamless, coordinated flow – they make it “look easy.” It isn't easy, but skill, practice, and experience build the expertise that makes the leader's decisions the right ones.
• Emotional stability: Underlying the thought and action of superior leaders is a basic emotional ballast and stability of character. This is a calm, purposeful, self-assured interpersonal style that inspires the troops with confidence and commands respect without having to fish for it. Team members will go out on a limb for this leader because they trust his/her judgment and commitment to the job and to themselves.
So, where do leaders come from, and can you learn to be one? If you think you have leadership potential, then you can start right now to take the leap, make the effort, and avail yourself of the training and experience that will give you the best opportunities to lead with confidence.