Are leaders born or made? The ability to effectively lead, motivate and direct a group of people – be it in business, sports or politics – requires a very complex set of skills, often acquired through experiences and self-development as well as access to post-training.
Expecting someone to generate a well-rounded and complete leader with the ability to influence and direct their team makes no sense based on what we know about group dynamics. The fact that leadership is mostly done is good news for those of us involved in leadership development – leaders can actually be developed.
Are leaders born or made?
Let’s start with something most of us would agree on: good leadership is a skill. And like most skills, there is no universal definition of what makes a better leader. In the same way that chefs can specialize in specific kitchens or musicians can master certain genres, leaders can lead in different ways. One may be data driven and prone to revealing consensus. Another person might have enormous instincts for directions and predictions. The other might be very sympathetic and inspiring. Once again, take a minute to think about the best leaders you have ever worked with. They weren’t carbon copies of each other, were they?
This, of course, is common with any skill. To continue the above comparison, not all great chefs make the same piece of Bolognese and talented pianists will play the same Chopin piece a little differently. They will do it all well but not the same.
Why is it told that leaders are born?
Some believe that true leaders are born this way – by nature they are charismatic, influential, inspiring, and destined to make an imprint. But while some people may be naturally predisposed to drive, just as they are naturally inclined to sports or music, we think it is entirely possible to develop the characteristics and skills needed to call yourself a leader. As legendary American football coach Vince Lombardi once said: “Leaders are not born, they are made. They are made like anything else, through hard work.”
So, whether you were born with “special sauce” or not, if you want to be a leader, you will have to work on developing and improving the properties of the great. Read on to learn some of the specific traits that are critical to leadership – and how any of us can nurture it in their career.
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This debate went on for a long time. Some claim that leaders are born with certain innate traits that set them apart from others from the start. Others believe that leaders create and develop over time. We believe leadership occurs any time we influence another person’s thinking, behavior or development. Leadership, in essence, equals impact. Based on this definition of leadership, we all have an impact, regardless of our status, education, or economic situation.
Research by psychologists has shown that leaders “do often.” The best estimates provided by research are that driving is comprised of one-third of baby boomers and two-thirds.
Why leaders are made not born?
The ability to effectively lead, motivate, and direct a group of people – be it in business, sports, or politics – requires a very complex set of skills, often acquired through experiences and self-development as well as access to post-training.
Expecting someone to generate a complete leader with the ability to influence and direct their team makes no sense based on what we know about group dynamics.
The fact that leadership is mostly done is good news for those of us involved in leadership development – leaders can actually be developed. Yet – and that’s the third – there are some innate properties that great leaders naturally possess that they use to their advantage.
If leadership is primarily about nature, then researchers can map the right mix of communication skills, thought, and strategic thinking, and the exact place on the graph between introversion and extroversion to define the next “great man” or “great woman”. But we don’t do that because we have all seen effective leaders who are very different from one another. Effective leaders have different personalities and skills. While all great leaders influence people effectively, the way they influence people varies greatly.
Some great leaders are extroverted, others are introverted. Some great leaders are administrators and obsessed with maximizing value through managing details, while others are more strategic and maximize value by leveraging people toward great opportunities.
Can anyone be a leader?
The characteristics that are given at birth influence the type of leader someone is, whether relational, strategic, or managerial. But it is the development of the leader that affects his effectiveness. While nature influences how one leads, upbringing affects leadership effectiveness.
The problem is that a lot of organizations don’t realize this. They have these great individual contributors and they want to keep them. So they promote them. They are giving them higher titles, more responsibility and keep doing well, and in the end, the next step is management. Suddenly, they go from being responsible for some tangible business product to a role where they are responsible for just more than that. They are now responsible for the people.
Are leaders born or made?
Now, think about the position the newly promoted manager occupies. They were great at their job but suddenly they were required to have a whole new skill set that they hadn’t needed before. Think of someone who spent years coding and who now needs to gather consensus and lead an engineer or salesperson who is now responsible not just for getting her deals done but for the performance of her entire team. If these people are not natural leaders, this can be a really difficult task.
Indeed, there is a real argument they were set to fail. 57% of frontline managers say they learned their leadership skills through trial and error. And with 50% of corporate attrition attributable to bad management, companies cannot afford to have new managers to deal with and hope for the best.
For emerging leaders and new managers, it is important not to assume that being a great contributor naturally translates into a great leader. Giving them that promotion and responsibility in your company is an investment and you need to keep investing by giving them real leadership training.
Everything from internal mentors to leadership books to conferences to virtual coaching solutions should be on the table. In fact, the more the better. Because in the same way that you consider driving a skill and two people don’t do it in exactly the same way, two people don’t learn how to drive exactly the same way either. They will benefit from different personal experiences and tend to have different natural traits and this is something that should be encouraged.
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