James Kouzes and Barry Posner in their path breaking book, “The Leadership Challenge” answer this question in a funny, yet matter-of-fact manner –
“Our answer to that question has always been the same: We have never met a leader who was not born. We’ve also never met an accountant, artist, athlete, engineer, lawyer, physician, scientist, teacher, writer, or zoologist who was not born.”
It’s an important question, especially for those who aspire to head companies or countries, be the face of a movement, or help others achieve greatness. Some believe that true leaders are born that way – naturally charismatic, influential, and inspiring individuals, destined to make a mark.
For example – Nelson Mandela – a South African anti-apartheid revolutionary and political leader, who served as the President of South Africa from 1994 to 1999. Mary Benson, a biographer describes him as
“A born mass leader who could not help magnetizing people.”
But while certain people may be naturally predisposed to leadership, just as they’re naturally predisposed to be an athlete or a musician, we believe it’s absolutely possible to cultivate the characteristics and skills necessary to call yourself a leader. As legendary American football coach Vince Lombardi once said:
“Leaders aren’t born, they are made. And they are made just like anything else, through hard work.”
Research has largely proven that- Leaders are ‘mostly made.’ Research estimates show that leadership comprises of one-third individuals who were born with the required qualities while two-thirds of these leaders were self-made. To expect a person to be born a ‘complete’ leader with the ability to influence and direct a team, just doesn’t seem logical. Behavioural theories believe that people can become leaders through the process of teaching, learning, and observation. Leadership is a set of skills that can be learned by training, perception, practice and experience over time.
So, whether you were born with special blessings or not, if you want to be a leader, you’re going to have to work hard to develop and nurture some specific traits that are critical for leadership. Most people who start out with a trace of innate leadership capability can actually become very good, even great leaders.
For folks involved in leadership development, this definitely helps in validating our efforts. However, the main question is how can one work on developing our leadership skills?
“Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality”
– Warren Bennis.
Leaders should be able to set clear goals and think ‘long-term’ in tangible deliverables. They should not be vague and should set goals in measurable terms, so that their team is also clear-cut about what exactly is expected of them. A visionary who is able to mobilize people towards a vision.
“All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them.”
– Walt Disney American filmmaker (1901-1966)
True leaders know that success does not depend only on their individual efforts, but rather it is dependent on their team’s performance and result. Hence, they should be able to carefully plan, inspire and convince people to comprehend a collective vision, align ideas, emotionally connect with the vision and each other, and are always synced with the bigger picture. They should be able to set an example for others to follow, leading by courage and example.
“If the plan doesn’t work, change the plan, but never the goal”
As they say, ‘change is the only constant in life.’ A leader should be able to navigate his team smoothly through constantly changing winds. Change shouldn’t be viewed as an obstacle, but rather as a chance to be innovative, adaptable, and yet remain decisive in the face of uncertainty. It’s also the perfect opportunity to show others that the team can rely on their leader to make big decisions.
“We are not here for any positions, but for responsibility” – Narendra Modi
Leaders need to step up to encourage their teams, track progress, offer support, move confidently, motivate and answer questions. When things go wrong, they should not hide and blame others, but face their mistakes -head on, offering solutions and move forward to prevent it from happening again.
“Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other”.
– John F Kennedy
Emerging leaders must have a constant desire to learn and grow, both, in their personal and professional life. They must seek out opportunities to grow as a leader – by powerful networking, seeking out mentors, and taking charge of new opportunities. They must learn to be adaptable and understand people.
Good oratorial skills or the art of powerful public speaking is a skill observed in great leaders like Barrack Obama, Martin Luther King Jr, Mahatma Gandhi and Winston Churchill. Developing verbal dexterity helps to put ideas into words accurately and improve the effectiveness of communication.
In conclusion, as with all personal and professional development, leadership development is a lifetime pursuit. Opportunities to learn new skills, strengthen your character, and take responsibility will be aplenty and it is up to you to make good use of these situations to become an exemplary leader; whether you are “born with it” or not!