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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Are Leaders Born or Made? So What?

I was interviewing management candidates to run one of my company's offices in the Southeast. One of the questions I liked to ask was "Do you consider yourself a natural leader?"

That begs the question that's the title of this post: "are leaders born or made?" Maybe it would be better to ask "are most leaders born or made?"

One can argue that very few natural leaders have ever existed in the world, leaders who innately know how to inspire others to follow and hopefully accomplish feats and goals they never believed possible. On the other hand, could we not argue that all parents are natural leaders as soon as their children are born? If the definition of a leader is that others follow, then every parent is a leader for at least a little while. Maybe we should exclude parents from this discussion.

I've personally only known one or two people who I could consider "naturals" as leaders. All the rest had to learn it. For me, I just know that, in the adult, non-parenting world, I am not a natural leader. I think I'm a decent leader (of course, that's open to interpretation depending on who you ask and based on what time period we're talking about). Or rather, I'm a decent leader now and in the recent past. I spent a lot of time being schooled by the Army about how to be both a manager and a leader. That helped. What really helped me was failing at leadership over the years, recognizing my failures (either on my own or with help from others), and then caring enough to try and do better. It reminds me of an outstanding doctor who once told me, "you know why I'm head and shoulders above the other doctors around me? It's because I'm standing on a pile of bodies." Leadership is often like that, too.

Like I said, I was not born a leader. What about you? If you weren't born a leader, are you a decent leader now? How do you learn to be a leader?

I'll leave you with a comment I heard from a sergeant when I was in the Army. The comment was, "I wouldn't follow that man into battle." The meaning was, "I wouldn't trust that man with my life or the lives of my people." That man was the commander and, supposedly, the leader.

Would your people follow you into battle?

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