Are leaders born or raised?

Being born with talent, riches or a good name doesn’t make you a great leader. Leadership skills can be learned if you open your mind

David FullerThink about the best leader you’ve ever worked for or been associated with. If you considered the qualities that make that person so fantastic as a leader, what would you say those qualities are?

It might be a coach or a team member. It might be your first boss or your current boss. It could even be a politician. It might be your mom.

In their book Speed, John Zenger and Joseph Folkman use the research of over one million 360-degree surveys to determine the qualities of great leaders and suggest how others could emulate them to make better decisions.

In 360-degree surveys, a human resources department or consultant asks questions related to how well a specific organizational leader is doing their job.

What they found is that great leaders have some specific qualities.

Those qualities include exhibiting a high level of integrity and truthfulness, an ability to motivate and inspire people, and have good communication skills. They have the capacity to see the big picture, enabling them to make decisions and get results.

Undoubtedly, the best leader you’ve ever worked with had many of these qualities. But have you ever wondered if that leader was born with those qualities or learned them?

If we were to consider the conditions that require leadership, would that make any difference to our understanding?

Leaders require a situation that includes followers who need direction. This might be a team setting or job environment. It could be a political uprising or just be an emergency on the side of the road.

Often, leadership is thrust upon an individual who willingly or unwillingly raises their hand to make a difference. Some of the best leaders I know were in a situation where someone was required to be in charge and they volunteered when no others would. Taking the position seriously, they were able to motivate others and achieve results.

We’re often told that the great leaders are bold, brash and dictatorial, like Winston Churchill or Donald Trump.

But if we consider those who have made the greatest changes in the past century, we might consider Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela or Mother Teresa. These are people who on the outside might have been kind and caring, introverted and passive, yet who were able to keep people focused on a vision and make the right decisions to get there.

Leadership can be learned.

I wasn’t much of a leader through my early schooling. Growing up, I let my younger brother make many of the decisions that were formational with our friends. I was never a team captain on any teams.

Yet when thrown into situations where I needed to direct staff, I learned to lead my teams through trial and error. Not that my leadership could be considered great by any means, but I had to overcome my shyness, learn to make good decisions without being impulsive, and figure out how to inspire others to achieve the goals we set out.

Undeniably, it’s easier for some people to take charge of a situation than others. In developing leaders in our teams, we might be looking for certain characteristics. But sometimes when we require a leader, it’s worth asking who wants to step up.

I’ve been surprised on occasion yet rarely disappointed when I’ve been patient enough to coach that aspiring leader to grow the skills necessary to lead.

Unfortunately, many organizations don’t support these emerging leaders in a meaningful way with the training and mentorship they need to achieve their full potential. When failure happens, the heads of these organizations blame the inadequate new leader, without reflecting that they need to shoulder some of the blame for their negligence.

Being born with talent, riches or a good name doesn’t make anyone a great leader. Leadership skills can be learned by those willing to open their minds to figuring out how to overcome the opportunities or challenges they face.

Leadership isn’t for the faint of heart but our society is in need of people who want to stand up and make a difference. Will you?

Dave Fuller, MBA, is an award winning business coach and a partner in the firm Pivotleader Inc. Disagree with the argument? Email dave@pivotleader.com

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David Fuller

David Fuller

David Fuller, MBA, is a certified professional business coach and author who helps business leaders ensure that their companies are successful. David is author of the book Profit Yourself Healthy.

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