Many people find themselves in different roles where leadership capabilities are useful or even vital to achieve what they have initiated. However, this doesn’t mean that leaders are always the smartest person in the team or that they have the most knowledge about business or other content. Successful leadership asks for the specific skills and knowledge of a leader to be brought together in the best way to allow effective directions to be set and good decisions to be made with a team.
A timeless debate like the age-old controversy about “a chicken and an egg” is more or less applicable also to the question whether leaders are born or made. In the most texts I’ve so far read the prevalent answer is: a leader is born.
Personally, I’m more for a kind of the in-between position: early genetics shown in childhood is an imprint that is hard to undo. Later, learning and practice bring new qualities and dimensions to leadership. Statistically, leadership capability will definitively fall along the Gaussian distribution. Some people are, indeed, born leaders but they still need a lot of work and learning to become true leaders and to get even better as they go along. At the bottom of the curve there are others who, no matter how hard they try, simply aren’t ever going to be leaders. They just don’t have the innate wiring. All in between start out with a very good prerequisites and are hard workers and learners but mostly never become outstanding leaders.
It may be true that some people feel more inclined and are better prepared to take on leadership roles and then consequently learn and develop the necessary skills to become a superior leader. Certain basics of good leadership can be self-taught, but a number of useful skills will be acquired through experience developed over a time. Understanding leadership functions is important to develop skills and capabilities to then achieve a successful leadership style matching one’s own character and talents. Therefore, modern theories about leadership involve a combination of personality traits and also specific skills, capabilities learned over time and gained through experience. It is rather a life learning process and not a semester at an MBA school.
The critical leadership ability is to be able to “connect with people” and this one should not be underscored. This brings up the discussion around the question of whether communication and relationship skills are inherent or learned. It is a leadership role to engage people they lead, to secure their commitment and to gain their trust. But for this a leader needs to hear and not only to listen what others have to say. I am a huge fan of the power of hearing.
Next in a row of leadership considerations is how a leader copes with feedback (described in my previous blog). Does he invite, initiate or oppose it. I believe leadership is about dealing with energy, first the energy in yourself and then in those around you. How a leader absorbs and accepts it. For this a great leader should pose a question to him(her)self: What are my actual strengths and weaknesses, both as a leader and as a person? What impact do I have on others? What is my moral and cultural compass and do I use it as a guidance system? How closely do my action(s) line up with promises? Last but not least, how these mindsets not only help during a crisis but how they inevitably help to avoid crises.
And again we come to the question: Are leaders born or are they made? I believe that the best leaders have some preconditions but they learn to lead. Feedback – they appreciate the value of honesty and trust (described in my previous blog). Listen and hear – they seek to understand and be understood. And they know that communicating and relating well with people are the only ways to achieve such a capacity of leadership that endures.