Why Leadership Is Like A Three-Legged Stool

Author

Alice Truong

October 8, 2014

Researchers at the University of Illinois sought to understand the science of leadership, and what they came up with is a metaphor involving a stool.

Past research in this field generally breaks leadership down to 30% genetics (certain traits, such as height, inherently shape our perception of what a leader is) and 70% lessons learned through life experience. Using this as a base, three professors at the university aimed to get a clearer understanding of what goes into that 70%–what factors make a good leader. After teaching a 15-week introductory course on leadership, they narrowed down leadership development to three main traits: readiness, willingness, and ability.

Students who believe in their leadership capabilities become willing to lead, even if such roles add nothing to their resumes.

“It’s a three-legged stool,” said David Rosch, one of the professors involved with the study. “Students first become ready to learn about being a leader; then they become willing to learn the skills necessary to practice leadership; and finally they’re able to lead because they have the skills and the motivation to do it. You can’t really move on to the other legs of the stool until you’ve achieved a certain amount of this readiness.”

The researchers explain that students who believe in their leadership capabilities become willing to lead, even if such roles add nothing to their resumes. In contrast, students who didn’t see themselves as leaders or weren’t confident in their ability to lead didn’t increase their willingness or ability, but did make gains in readiness levels.

On a related note, a recent study from Ohio State University found thats self-confidence–influenced highly by external social validation–can shape students’ career paths. Even when students had similar qualifications, the ones whose advisors actively encouraged them to pursue certain goals, such as applying for a graduate program, ended up following through on them.

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