Are Great Leaders Born Or Made?

Today I tackle the age-old question, are great leaders born or made? I've got a researched backed yet surprising answer for you. I'd love to hear from you what your thoughts are on leadership. Do you think great leaders are born?
All Great Leaders Are Born With This One Thing

In today’s episode of mythbusters, I’m going to answer the question, Are great leaders born or made?  It’s a popular question and google search.  I’ve done all the research and I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but leaders are born.   Truly great leaders can only be born.  This is probably heartbreaking…  for all the non-born people reading this blog post. Dad joke aside, leadership skills aren’t some innate gifting that only smart and successful people have.  Leadership is like any other skill.   Skills are built over time, they aren’t part of your genetics.

The only research that even remotely suggests that there is a leadership trait was done on identical twins and looked at extraversion as an indicator.    The studies have been done to death and it’s one of the biggest myths in leadership.   Extroverts don’t make better leaders.   Extroverts by their nature have more relationships and have more opportunities and thus more opportunities to lead.  Being in a position of authority, being an extrovert, or having more charisma for that matter doesn’t have anything to do with being a great leader.

Great Leaders Aren’t Born Or Made

When someone is born they did nothing intentionally.  Two people came together and created a new person.  That new person didn’t have a say in how they were created.   In the same way, when something is made, someone or something made the thing.  Creations don’t do the making.

Great leadership comes from humility and intentionality.    This is the essence behind servant leadership.  As C.S. Lewis said, “Humility isn’t thinking less of your self, it’s thinking about your self less.”  Humility is power under control.   Let’s examine 3 areas leadership skills are born through intentional humility.

Humility to learn from failure

Failure is a much better teacher than success ever will be.  With each failure, you can learn how not to do something.  Learning from failure isn’t automatic.  People try the exact same thing over and over again expecting a different result.  There’s a word for that.  Insanity.   You can learn from failure and increase your leadership skills only if you’re willing to accept the responsibility for the failure and examine what you could have done differently.  In fact, there are 3 simple steps to learning from failure.

  1. Accept responsibility – A team’s failure can sometimes be someone else’s fault.  However, owning the failure allows you to examine it.
  2. Perform the Autopsy – After a failure, it’s instructive to review what happened and what could be have been different.   What was the cause
  3. Take Action – Having the knowledge of why a failure occurred is great, but take the opportunity to take action to prevent it from happening again.

I’m being intentionally vague about failure here.   We all fail in different areas whether it’s professional or personal.  The key is being willing to say, “I could have done better and next time I’ll do better because I’ve learned from this mistake.”

Humility to listen to others

A google search will provide you with a ton of posts about whether great leaders are born or made and almost all of them list listening or empathy as a characteristic of great leadership.  When people think of leaders, listening isn’t the first thing they think of usually.  However, it’s the leaders that listen that are remembered.  The ability to listen to your team and your team of advisors is crucial to your success as a leader.     Listening in this context is two-fold.   It’s listening to others to communicate value and also listening for valuable feedback on your leadership or the team’s potential issues.   Listening, truly listening is an intentional act.    It’s saying, “I’m not the focus, the other person is.”  As a side note, listening doesn’t always mean agreeing.

Humility to know that they have to grow

The best leaders know they don’t know it all and they seek ways to improve or surround themselves with people who do know.   This includes all facets of life.  Leadership skills tend to be improved when other areas of your life are improved.  If you become a better father or mother, for example, it often translates to a better leader in the workplace.  The key here like the others is that in order for leadership skills to be improved you have to recognize that they need improvement and then be intentional about improving them.

Leadership has nothing to do with leadership personality and everything to do with values and decision making.   The number one value in leadership is humility.  Great leaders aren’t born with humility it’s a learned behavior.    Does that mean that humility alone will make you a great leader?  No.  There are other things that you have to master to become a truly great leader.  However, you can have all the skills in the world and if you lack humility you won’t be a great leader.


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