Last week, I spoke at the University of Connecticut’s School of Business, as part of their Leadership Speaker series, which was made possible by a Target® Stores grant. (Thank you Target!) My talk was entitled: Everyday Leadership: Motivating the Leader in You.
After the talk, one of the savvy students asked me whether I thought leaders were born or made. It is a profound question that has been asked and pondered by many people.
After taking a slow, deep breath, giving me time to reflect on his question, I answered, “I think leaders are made. I think that anyone can become a leader, if the inner drive and external support are favorable.”
Centuries before our time, people who were born into royalty, wealth and privilege were accepted as naturally superior to others. They were born into the leadership role and were obligated to lead their family fortunes and their nations, even if they didn’t have the character, skill or desire to lead. Others were precluded from leadership opportunities simply by virture of their birth and family lineage. Of course, history has proven that leaders come from all walks of life and that you can become an important leader even if you weren’t born into it.
Leadership is a choice
David O’Brien’s short answer to the question of whether leaders are born or made? is “I don’t know for sure, but what I do know for sure is that…
“Everyone has the capacity to lead. Leadership is a choice and once you make that choice, you are called to demonstrate leadership every waking second of every day. There is no off switch on leadership.”
David used to think about leadership in terms of leading people. That is how one uses his/her influence to lead, inspire and engage groups of people. Following the Great Recession of 2009, David began to think about leadership from a broader context. In his Article – Redefining Leadership, David reminds us that the world in which we live calls for true leadership outside of work too.
“Leadership today is by my estimation much more about the opportunity we each have to demonstrate personal leadership in all aspects of life versus the single dimension of work or job title.”
David defines personal accountability as “consistently doing more than is expected well and with a good attitude.” He suggests that the heightened level of personal accountability starts with the leader as he or she is the role model for the desired behaviors, attitudes and performance.
Through this lens, I believe we all have the opportunity to be leaders. It’s not about power and control, or fame and fortune, but about personal responsibility and accountability. Are you born or made this way? Who were the role models of this leadership trait in your life?
I encourage you to learn more about leadership from David O’Brien, who has kindly allowed me to share these resources with my readers:
- Article – Redefining Leadership
- Article – Deliberate Leadership in a Distracted World
- Visit David O’Brien’s web site: www.workchoicesolutions.com
Perhaps we are looking at the question too narrowly
Allison Akers Davis would argue that leaders are both born and made. She shared with me the following:
“There are charismatic leaders who show signs of leadership in the sandbox, those children who other children dress like and want to be like. We knew them in high school, the kids who had their own style and other kids hung on every word, they are charismatic, focused and engaged in learning.
Leaders can also be developed. Coaching can help leaders to build an awareness of how they show up and what actions to take to build on strengths, such as relationship building, and to pay attention to their opportunities, such as leadership presence.
Coaching and leadership development can then help leaders to learn and apply new techniques for greater success on the job.”
Does the personality you are born with determine your leadership potential?
To answer this question, I turned to the work of Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking. Susan reminds us that society has shifted its definition of leadership to one that favors the extroverted personality type. Charisma seems to be a must-have quality of a leader.
Ms. Cain reminds us that there are many outstanding examples of leaders who were not born with charming, outgoing personalities. Leaders and world changers like Albert Einstein, Bill Gates, Sonia Sotomayor, Rosa Parks, Al Gore, Warren Buffett, Gandhi, Eleanor Roosevelt, and others.
Susan says “We tend to overestimate how outgoing leaders need to be.” She says that when it comes to leaders and leadership, we need to focus on “substance rather than style.”
Put this idea into action
No matter when, where, how, or in what circumstance you were born into this world, you have an opportunity to develop yourself into a leader.
It starts with leading yourself.
This is perhaps the most difficult leadership challenge that any of us face. It means being honest with yourself, acknowledging your weaknesses and addictions, consciously changing behaviors and beliefs. You have to accept full responsibility for everything that happens in your life. No more blaming others. Never again.
This kind of personal leadership will require you to examine your values, intentions and purpose. This is hard work. It will take much reflection on your part. It’s not something you can purchase. You can’t acquire this kind of personal leadership by getting more people to follow you on Twitter or like you on Facebook. You have to earn it with sweat equity.
When you discover that you are a leader…When you decide that this is true of you…You will stand taller and think differently. You will be open to new opportunities.