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My Three Big Leadership Lessons

Writing The Science of Leadership left Julian Barling with some a-ha moments

The Essentials

Julian Barling, Borden Chair of Leadership at Queen's School of Business, gathered together what researchers have learned about organizational leadership from decades of studies into the reader-friendly The Science of Leadership: Lessons from Research for Organizational Leaders (Oxford University Press, 2014). One of the delights of writing the book, he says, was picking up “lessons I learned along the way.” In this presentation, Barling shares his views on women and leadership, whether or not leadership can be taught, and how to translate theory into everyday behaviour.

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Video Highlights


2:50     The many paradoxes of women and leadership

After decades of research across many countries, women as a group have been shown to be more likely than men to display transformational and participative leadership, behaviours that are linked to more positive organizational outcomes. Yet women are significantly less likely than men to attain meaningful leadership positions. “We can no longer limit ourselves to looking at the same old groups while hoping for demographically different outcomes. Successful organizations voluntarily choose to create environments that respect, reward, develop, and promote male and female leaders, creating a larger and richer pool of talent  from which to draw their future leadership. . . The time for debate about gender and leadership is over. Social and organizational functioning demand that action be taken now.” 

16:54     Are leaders born or made?

No more than 30 percent in variation of who becomes a leader is genetic. Research suggests that leaders can indeed be developed, sometimes in workshops lasting only one day. One study showed that charisma can be taught to mid-managers in only five hours. “We overestimate what constitutes wonderful leadership. We would do well to remember that the best of leadership is not what extraordinary people accomplish by themselves. Instead the best of leadership is about the smallest things that leaders do to inspire their employees.” Strangely, organizations are risk-averse when it comes to leadership development, preferring to invest in individuals who are already in leadership roles. Instead, Barling says, managers should be developed and nurtured long before they lead others.

25:30     Translating leadership theory into everyday behaviour

Employees do not expect leaders to do the impossible all the time. Instead, they will judge their leaders by what they choose to do but didn’t have to do. "The leadership challenge is not whether you can sustain wonderful leadership all the time with all your employees. The leadership challenge is what you choose to do at the right time during those few precious moments in which you have an opportunity to make a real difference, those moments when you can help your employees see and appreciate their strengths, not yours; understand how important their work is, not yours; and treasure the working relationships they have with their leaders and peers.”