February 08, 2016

Does Everyone Have What it Takes to be a Leader?

Does Everyone Have What it Takes to be a Leader?
There is an age-old argument that has not yet been completely resolved. The argument relates to human personality and whether it is inherited (nature) or developed (nurture). Years ago, it was all considered to be a factor of nature. People inherited their personality characteristics ad were born with them. Then, we moved through a period in which the dominant thought was that all personality traits were the result of nurture – individuals’ experiences as they grew up.

How Leadership Figures into the Nature/Nurture Discussion

We have all heard expressions such as, “She is a natural born leader” or “He was born to lead.” And in many way these are true. Some children seem to come into this world with an extroverted personality; they are just more assertive, more verbal, and more able to influence others.  And these traits are often those cited by researchers as necessary for leadership. The question becomes, then, this: Can leadership qualities and traits be taught and learned?

Research May Have the Answer

Since the 1950’s, researchers at major universities across the U.S. have studied the trait of leadership and whether they can be learned. One particular study determined that leadership traits were about 1/3 inherited and about 2/3 learned. A more recent study (2014) out of the University of Illinois indicates that individuals can move through a process of leadership development, either through his/her experiences or through formal leadership education and training. These researchers then developed a course of study based upon the findings of their research.

Readiness, Willingness, and Ability

The course that was developed assessed students as they enrolled and divided them into three categories. Those who were ready to assume leadership positions, those who had a willingness but were not ready, and those who definitely had the ability but had not yet refined those abilities to assume leadership positions.

After 15 weeks of the course, students who were not ready at the course onset had improved in their readiness, as evidence by increased self-confidence and ability to express themselves assertively. Those who came in identified as “ready” improved their leadership skills and demonstrated the ability to assume leadership positions. The big change for them was in the area of motivation – the desire to want to become leaders. Students who were classified as “able” mastered the taught skills and had actually become leaders in the class.

The conclusions from this study were that there is a “readiness” that is inherent in some people that comes from their life experiences prior to entry into the course. Somewhere along the line they have been placed into leadership roles with by accident or by design, and have had to develop leadership skills out of necessity. This seems to be true. When we look at Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Mark Zuckerberg, we see three individuals who were techies and not leaders in their early years. They had no experience in leadership until they were thrust into those positions by their innovations. They were certainly motivated, and their self-confidence grew with the growth of their businesses. None of them ever had formal training in leadership and none had had leadership positions before. The key elements were that they wanted to lead and influence others.

What All of this Means for You

You have to decide for yourself if you want to be a leader. Some of us do, and others do not. And there are wonderful careers and opportunities for those who determine that leadership is just not in their “makeup. If, on the other hand, you do want to assume leadership roles, there should be nothing in your way. You can develop those traits of effective leaders, so long as you have the motivation to do so.

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