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Is Leadership Born or Built? It’s Sexier Than That!

GoslingLeadershipIn a recent Washington Post article titled, Is Leadership Born or Built, the question was again asked, “is leadership born or is it built?”

It’s always an interesting topic that garners a lot of attention because of its polarization, assuming that leadership is an either or situation.  Most of the article assumes that leadership is a single, quantifiable competency or characteristic not unlike being “born” with brown eyes or “building” contact lenses to have brown eyes.

I think most of us would agree that leadership is so much more than that.  Additionally, we would probably agree that certain characteristics of leadership lend themselves to different situations. There are two important concepts here: leadership is a multitude of variables and great leadership is highly influenced by environment or situation.

I did like the article’s definition of leadership – leadership is about managing energy, first in yourself and then in those around you.

When discussing this article and idea around the office, we began by asking what are the requirements of great leadership.  Sure, there are some great, dynamic leaders that seem to have just come from birth.  Although, I’m sure if you were to ask those leaders, they would probably say that their “leadership ability” came from a multitude of variables such as upbringing, development, practice and growth.  Additionally, we asked, “Well, what if Steve Jobs, a good leader by most standards, was an accountant? Or, what if Warren Buffet, another great leader, was a manager at Home Depot? Would they have been as successful?” Perhaps, but maybe not!  What if you took a “natural” leader out of their element or out of an environment that fosters their natural skill?  Would they be the leader we talk about today?  Or, do great leaders require both the charisma and “hutzpah” that comes with birth, as well as skill and competency development (technology and design for Jobs, finance and entrepreneurship for Buffet), as well as an environment that fosters those natural talents and learned competencies.

An organization should not be looking to find the “born” leader or even “building” the potential leaders they have.  What about “growing” leaders?  Leaders are neither born nor built in a strict, controlled environment. Rather, they’re grown from a multitude of variables including natural desire and willingness to lead, upbringing, core talents, learned competencies and skills and then finding an environment best suited to appreciate their leadership.  Great organizations know they must find the potential leadership qualities in employees, create opportunities to expose and expand those talents, and reward leadership with an environment of autonomy and progress in the organization.

So the next time we begin to polarize leadership as this or that, tell yourself leadership is sexier than that.  It is a combination of amazing and wonderful indicators that come together in a human being who then has the unique talents and competencies to focus energy in both themselves and others to produce something better than it was before.

What do you think?  Nature vs. Nurture, a little of both, or more complicated?  Add your thoughts below…


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