Asking “Are leaders born or made?” doesn’t help you develop as a leader

November 13, 2014 by Joshua
in Education, Leadership, Perception

Talk about leadership and someone will ask if leaders are born or made.

If you’re just idly chatting, it’s a fine pointless question to pass the time with.

If you want to develop as a leader, I suggest the question will waste your time. No great leader started leading in a vacuum, nor as a child. They all developed somehow. Even if they had a greater potential than you do, you can improve.

What works in developing leaders

I suggest more relevant questions for people trying to improve their leadership skills include

  • What techniques work to develop leaders?
  • How can I use those techniques?
  • Can we improve those techniques?
    • If so, how much?
  • Am I using techniques that work?
    • If not, how can I start to?

Other fields have improved their instructional technique. We produce athletes, musicians, scientists, musicians, and so on who can do things past generations could only dream of, as James Surowiecki noted in “Better all the time” in last week’s New Yorker. So can leadership.

However far you’ve come, you can develop further. You may have to find new techniques, coaches, mentors, etc, but you can.

What areas should I work in?

Many consider George Patton effective as a military leader.

Many consider Oprah Winfrey effective as a leader in media for women.

I doubt Winfrey would lead tanks into battle effectively, nor would I expect Patton to host television shows for women effectively, though you never know in either case.

If your only model for leadership was Patton, you’d predict Winfrey to fail, but she didn’t. A major part of your potential effectiveness in leading is the domain you choose to work in. If you don’t have passion for a field, you may not lead effectively there, but you may lead extraordinarily effectively in some other field you care about.

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