in Leadership, Leading the Self, LinkLove

Can Leaders Be “Shipped”? The Debate Continues

I recently came across a company (somewhere on the social web) that claimed that they “shipped leaders”. It looked like they offered leadership training services. It took me back to the old debate of whether leaders are born or made. One thing is clear – leaders cannot be manufactured in a training factory and shipped. Had that been the case, there would be no dearth of great leaders in business and society.

This is an issue where I had some strong beliefs. But since it is not a new debate, I knocked the doors of some of my friends (via their blogs) to see what they thought about it. I wasn’t disappointed with what they offered.

I found a brilliant article written by Wally Bock on whether leaders are born or made. He thinks that leaders are “sort of born, but they are always made”. An excerpt:

It seems like there’s only one thing that a person needs to actually be born with in order to be a leader later in life. That’s intelligence.

Leadership is an apprentice trade. Leaders learn about 80 percent of their craft on the job.

They learn from watching other leaders and emulating their behavior. They choose role models and seek out mentors. They ask other leaders about how to handle situations.

Leaders improve by getting feedback and using it. The best leaders seek feedback from their boss, their peers and their subordinates. Then they modify their behavior so that they get better results.

Wally concludes by stating that a leader never stops growing. Tanveer Naseer’s post enlightened me on whether leadership is an art or science. An excerpt:

Maybe like most human functions, leadership is not something we can put into a nice little box and place on a shelf for easy reference and review. Instead, it would seem we’d be better off recognizing that like most human interactions, leadership is defined both by its complexities, as well as its simplicities, in how one guides others toward a common goal.

Finally, at Harvard Business Review, I read an old interview with Centurion Holdings CEO Joe Grano. In response to the question on whether leadership can be taught, he responded:

Good managers can be trained to be adequate leaders, but the great ones are forged by their environment and their DNA.

Key Take-aways:

  • Leadership is an applied science – the more you lead, more initiatives you take, more you fail – the more you learn.
  • Irrespective of whether leaders are born or made, it is important to ask a few critical questions: What are your gifts (and how can you be one with your gifts)? What are you willing to do to take your gifts to highest level you possibly can?

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  1. The part about shipping leaders sounds like some marketing spin to me. But I’ll never agree that leaders are born. It seems to me that there are people who want to avoid the responsibility of leadership and there are some leaders who want to hoard it. But I still go with the Maxwell quote that “leadership is influence, plain and simple.”

    We all influence. We do not all attain to a position of leadership in our careers. Many bottom-of-the-totem-pole types are great little league coaches and lead wonderful families and church committees. Not all are cut out for the position of leading a company or a department of one.


    • Mike, Thanks for the comment and sharing the Maxwell quote.

      I have also seen that all great leaders just set out to express themselves, doing something about causes they felt for and in that process of “being”, they were called leaders by people who were influenced. Part of this, I think, is that whether someone is a leader or not is more of a judgement others make. The day I think I am a leader, I am not.

      “We all influence” – amen to that!


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