Last week I wrote about the definition of Leadership, where that definition comes from, and who defines it. Another of the “great” leadership questions over the years has been whether leaders are made, or born. Are some people born with natural leadership traits or is it something we can learn?
When I started my personal journey of exploring leadership and what it is all about, and trying to get a better grasp on my own leadership style, I was of the impression that leaders were born. I had come to this conclusion from my own personal experience, on many occasions having observed individuals who appeared to have no leadership abilities whatsoever, and contrasting that against my own experiences in which l had consistently found myself in leadership roles, doing what just came naturally and receiving much positive about what a good leader I was. Left alone with no other experiences I would most likely still think that leadership ability was something one was born with.
However, I have come to recognize that this thinking is wrong. Yes, there are those who have natural leadership tendencies, but that doesn’t mean that only they can become great leaders. Leadership, I have come to recognize, can be learned. Individuals who may not see themselves as leaders or feel they have what it takes to become a leader can do so. Often, individuals who have never been in a leadership role will stand up and take the lead when a situation they care about requires it. A simple example is parenting. When a child arrives, many parents discover leadership abilities they never knew they possessed in order to guide and protect their children. There are countless war stories of simple soldiers and sailors who rose to an unimaginable challenge on their own in the heat of battle. In his book, Leadership in Balance (2005), Avolio stated that if you believe that leaders are born then you lose the opportunity to fully realize your own potential to become a leader.
In an article called Be Leaders, Do Leadership, Barry Posner stated that “Leadership is a skill. And while this set of abilities is normally distributed in a population just as any other talent is, it can be made (learned) in the same fashion as any other ability.”
Again, In The Leadership Challenge, Kouzes and Posner stated, “It’s just pure myth that only a lucky few can ever understand the intricacies of leadership. Leadership is not a gene, and it’s not a secret code that can’t be deciphered by ordinary people. The truth is that leadership is an observable set of skills and abilities that are useful whether one is in the executive suite or on the front line, on Wall Street or Main Street, in any campus, community, or corporation. And any skill can be strengthened, honed, and enhanced, given the motivation and desire, along with practice and feedback, role models, and coaching.”
Leadership can be learned and developed — a process that may be easier if one has a predisposition toward it — but it is entirely possible to build the same leadership competencies through study and work experiences.
John Whitehead, coaches’ individuals and organizations in becoming more effective by helping them improve their interpersonal communications, emotional intelligence and resiliency.
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