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More on “Are Leaders Born or Created”?


Probably a bit of both!

Some are born.  They exhibit the key traits associated with leaders, often at an early age, and develop even more impact and influence with education and experience.  (Look at any kids’ sports team and the natural leaders will quickly stand out).  If you google “key leadership traits” you’ll find a long list of opinions showcasing 5-50 must-have characteristics!  My short list includes:

  • Vision:  Leaders are the big picture thinkers and optimists  who see what the future could be (remember Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream”  speech?), are passionate about ”why”, “how” and ”what” the organization does (more on  Simon Sinek’s “Golden Circle” below) and challenge stakeholders to engage in that future.     
  • Character: Integrity goes without saying although, more and more often, we’re disappointed when our leaders’ moral compasses malfunction. 
  • Self Understanding:  Leaders are confident about their authentic selves, open to feedback about how they’re actually perceived, willing to listen to hear rather than to refute and are able to be vulnerable (e.g. they share failures, apologize) with their teams.
  • Problem solving:  Leaders are analytical (they see patterns that others miss), intuitive (they trust their guts) and street savvy (they know when others are trying to take advantage).
  • Productivity:  Leaders are profit aware (they understand sustainability as well as the bottom line)  and decisive (they’re willing to take action rather than talk an issue to death).
  • Motivation:  Leaders are willing to take calculated risks (they have a Plan B) and to assume responsibility for the team (they don’t hang them out to dry) when projects don’t go as well as planned.
  • Human Relations/Emotional Intelligence:  Leaders’  “presence” impacts, influences and inspires people to enage in their vision.  They build high performance teams where every member is positioned for success (they’re able to play to their strengths and supported to do so).  They’re willing to say “no” as and when necessary and are focused on negotiating win-win solutions wherever possible.

Some are created or shaped.  Most of us are in this group:  we show signs of leadership but need some help enhancing our skills and/or boosting our confidence.  Three key resources include:

  • Assessment:  Get a better understanding of who you really are through an evaluation like The Pathfinder Career System or a 360 degree feedback.
  • Mentor:  Find a ”champion” or “sponsor” who will share his or her knowledge and wisdom with you.  Their experiences will help you take more calculated risks and learn from projects that don’t go as well as planned. 
  • ProDev:  Take charge of your own development and commit to life-long learning. 

And, of course, some people exhibit neither leadership traits nor any interest in leading.  That’s good because Leaders need teams of competent subject matter experts to execute the Vision with excellence!  Team members will, hopefully, agree with their leader and commit to the Vision.  It’s OK to disagree as long as the member is willing to commit.  But when a member disagrees and can’t (or won’t) commit, it’s time to move on.  

 Simon Sinek (see his “How Great Leaders Inspire Action” video on YouTube) says there are two kinds of Leaders:

  • Those who are in positions of authority and power is their key technique (we’ve all worked with someone who commands and controls;  it’s not pretty!)
  • Those who buy into “The Golden Circle”:  they start with “why” (here’s the dream I’m passionate about) then map out the “how” (here’s the overall process) and, finally, highlight the “what” (here are the services and products we’ll offer).

Leaders, Managers, Self Directed Work Teams…each plays a key role in today’s workplace.  Where do you play to your strengths?