An “acquired taste” is appreciation for something unlikely to be enjoyed by a person who has not had substantial exposure to it. The phrase is typically used in relation to food or beverages (everyone not taking to them on account of odour, taste or appearance), but is also used to refer to aesthetic tastes (such as in music, art or beauty). Whatever the context, however, time, education, exposure and frequency are needed to develop an appreciation for its specific characteristics – its nuances, uniqueness, benefits, etc. Once the “taste” has been acquired, interestingly, there is usually a desire for wanting to explore the taste further – is this all there is to it or are there other nuances that I am still missing?  (A good example of this is a penchant of many for wine-tasting on the numerous farms that occupy the beloved winelands where I live).

Similarly, in the leadership arena, some of the expected roles leaders have to play and the skills necessary to execute them are easier to acquire than others – being motivational in one’s communication or offering a word of encouragement may be easy activities for some, but these same leaders may struggle to confront poor performance or address bad behaviour. True leadership, however, does require proficiency in all expected roles and, for many, these roles are “acquired tastes” – needing special attention, education and practise to realise the skill. Of particular note, the following “acquired tastes” need to be developed:

  1. The ability to confront poor performance evenly – confronting poor performance or bad behaviour is not an emotional outburst, but rather a measured discussion facilitated with the objective of improvement in mind. There should be no hint of character attacks or manipulative expressions to make the employee feel bad.
  2. The ability to listen intently – although the environment may be busy, taking time to listen not only to words being said, but emotion being expressed, creates a sense of care from leadership.
  3. The ability to treat everyone fairly – no favourites. All people are different and thus can’t be treated in exactly the same way, but all should be treated fairly. Fairness exhibits leadership consistency.
  4. The ability to apologise swiftly and sincerely when wrong – pride should not stand in the way of acknowledging error. We all make mistakes – leaders grow integrity when they apologise authentically.
  5. The ability to model the company values and related behaviours consistently – employees will easily forgive and forget leadership’s failed attempts with certain tasks or project timing over-runs, but will always remember when those in leadership say one thing (especially in relation to values) and do another. Integrity is paramount to building trust.

Positional leadership relies on the authority of the position to get things done by employees. True leadership, on the other hand, recognises the need to acquire a taste for the really difficult roles that leaders need to play, knowing that, if executed successfully, authentic engagement is the result.