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.
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.
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.
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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