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Are Leaders Born or Grown?

This questions has more debates circling around it than the Big Bang Theory! Though if we're to answer this question fairly we'd end up with "leaders are both born and grown", not very satisfactory for debate makers!

To delve deeper into this we need to look at leadership as a set of behaviours, skills and abilities demonstrated by individuals that allows them to exemplify ownership, drive performance through people and achieve results. In fact, everyone has a leader within, the challenge is in the balance of behaviours and demonstration of the relevant skills and abilities. If we go back to psychology and the trait theory, we can agree that people are not born with equally similar traits. Every person exhibits different traits and behaviours with different degrees of intensity, some traits are more embedded intrinsically into someone's psyche than others and these are different from one person to the other.

This is amusingly visible when observing children's behaviour. If you see children playing, you'll often notice someone giving instructions, another debating, a third mediating and a fourth just waiting for everything to settle to just play! With the exception of the latter maybe to some extent, all former behaviours are in fact leadership behaviours, however, striking the right balance between them is not an easy thing. Going back to our example, if the children keep debating and are unable to agree on how to play, they often resolve to a referee, or if that referee is witnessing the debate they would come forward themselves to offer advice more often. This child is usually respected and viewed as the "wise person" of the group, even if not all children agree to his/her proposal, they would oblige and follow. Such child is an example of a potential born leader.

That said, does it mean that people cannot be grown into leaders? Not really.

Leaving traits and natural tendencies aside, we need to look at self-awareness, mindfulness, self-discipline and control. The combination of these is often referred to as Emotional Intelligence. People who exhibit behaviours that demonstrate potential leadership but they don't quite make the cut yet can be trained to become more emotionally intelligent. This is a serious undertaking and requires a lot of patience and practice for it to become more natural, and only if people do not show the willingness or the resilience required can you then discount the possibility of them becoming balanced leaders. These people can still actually become leaders but will they make good ones? Debatable.

During my time as a senior leader, I always found this balance to be challenging. I am very much people oriented by nature, however, this natural tendency didn't always help in achieving results. Being tough with people is not something that comes naturally to me, but at many occasions I had to, with all the discomfort that it brought me. This is but one example of many, and the key was always self-awareness and control. This helped me build healthy relationships with my coworkers and achieve better results than some other managers who chose to lead in one specific manner.

So yes, some are born leaders but others can also be grown into becoming ones. And for the HC professional, it's a key skill to identify potential leaders, keep an eye on them and help groom them to achieve their potential instead of always looking outside the organisation to identify leaders. When we use the excuse that there are no people "ready" in the organisation to assume leadership positions, we need to look into the mirror and ask ourselves a brutally honest question: What were we waiting for?! My advice is to invest immediately in leadership grooming and training as you might be in for the next best discovery under your own roof!

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