The debate whether leaders are born or made has been waged for many years. The question centers around how various leadership qualities are acquired. Perhaps a more pressing question for hopeful leaders is, if they don’t inherently have the needed core skills, can they be learned?
The answers, while not endorsed unanimously, are based on a number of observed realities. Of the many skills required to lead well, it’s hard to imagine anyone being born with them all; they are too intricate and diverse for one personality. Most experts agree that a number of leadership attributes require experience to possess.
Dr. Ronald Riggio sums it up well in his 2009 article for Psychology Today, entitled, Leaders: Born or Made? He points out that research reveals all leaders have qualities that are both inborn and developed. In other words, it takes a certain type of person to fit the leadership mold, and that person must learn skills in addition to any that come naturally. Data reveals that leaders are split, with approximately one-third being “born” and two-thirds being “made”. What this means is that one-third rely most heavily on the skills they are born with, while two-thirds rely most heavily on the skills they develop.
Dr. Connson Chou Locke, in her 2014 Harvard Business Review article, Asking Whether Leaders Are Born or Made Is the Wrong Question, explains that inborn skills, which are mostly revealed in a leader’s personality, lend themselves to a leader’s emergence. These are the qualities that present a person as eligible for leadership and place their name in leadership discussions. On the other hand, developed skills are mostly revealed in a leader’s decisions, and facilitate their career’s effectiveness. Which category do you fall into?
As a leader, you can benefit in a number of ways by assessing your skills. Which were you born with, or put another way, which are a part of your personality? How did these play a part in your transition into leadership? Which of your skills did you develop, either by experience or dedicated training? How have these enhanced your effectiveness as a leader?
Leading With Innate Abilities
If you were born with core leadership qualities, people have long noticed how you seem right for the leader role. Your character lends itself to many of the behaviors expected of good leaders.
Extraversion: People who are naturally outgoing draw followers. Boldness and assertiveness are greater qualities yet, sought for leadership because of the demands of the role.
Intelligence: People with high logical and creative intelligence have a distinct advantage in the complex, fast-paced business world. Having good social intelligence, or people skills, is an extra bonus, since many of the challenges in leadership require effectively dealing with people.
Handling stress: If you are naturally even keeled and have a high threshold for stress, your leadership will weather storms that other leaders can’t survive. This affords leaders high levels of trust from their people.
Decisiveness: Drawing sound conclusions from natural confidence and insight helps a leader be decisive. This is a natural quality vital for running an organization with timely and effective direction.
Leading With Learned Abilities
A number of key leadership skills are learned or developed through experience, training or coaching. This is promising for many leaders who want to improve beyond their natural abilities and current skill set.
Problem solving: Gathering information and logically processing viable solutions is a skill primarily learned through experience. Quite often, a crisis-oriented environment sharpens this skill the fastest.
People skills: Some relational skills can be natural, such as an interest in people. But many leaders struggle with emotional intelligence: reading people, active listening and showing empathy. Until leaders learn and master these relational skills, more fail than succeed.
Business communication: The art of communicating in writing and formal speaking is typically a learned skill. Communication is complex, and many aspects need to be considered to properly convey ideas or requests to effectively influence people.
Self-assessment: This is perhaps the most difficult, yet vital, achievement a leader can have and it rarely comes naturally. It is normally developed through specific coaching or training. The most effective leaders learn how to become self-aware and identify strengths and weaknesses. They know their passions, motives and values. They understand, and maintain, trustworthiness. Effective leaders sharpen themselves with these evaluations.
Taking Stock of Your Abilities
A leader’s prospects for success depend heavily on how well they make use of their natural talents and the skills they’ve developed. Well-rounded leaders who make effective use of both inborn and learned skills have the greatest success. There are very few leaders who can rely on only inborn or developed skills and successfully lead others.
Assessing your skills can help you focus on your strengths, as well as the areas you may want to improve. An objective evaluation of your skills can either enhance your candidacy for a leadership role, or further fuel the leadership role in which you’re currently engaged.
With a colleague or executive coach, devise a self-development plan. Get feedback from trusted co-leaders: seek honest impressions on areas where you excel, and where you can improve.
So, are you a born leader?
If it is asking whether someone will emerge as a leader among a group of peers, then those types of leaders are born. But if it is asking whether someone will perform effectively in a leadership position, then that is dependent on the context, the type of job, and the person’s ability to develop leadership skills. ~ Connson Chou Locke
As a leader, your prospects for success depend heavily on how well you make use of your natural talents and the skills you’ve developed. Take the time to learn as many leadership skills as you can.