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Born not Made?

Optimize Blog - January 4, 2011 - 0 comments

First we would like to wish all our readers a Happy and Prosperous New Year and we trust that the Christmas break has recharged your batteries and that you are looking forward to the opportunities and challenges of 2011 and beyond.
We thought that we would start off the year by taking another look at one of the age old questions of leadership – are leaders ‘made’ or ‘born’. This is one of those topics that has been considered since at least the time of Plato, so it’s unsurprising that a definitive answer has yet to be determined. As Management Consultants, though, it is a critical question and one that gets asked of us a lot. So, which side of the debate do we land?
Well, there is no doubt that there is a great deal of substantive research which shows that there are certain subconscious biases that exist. Appearance for example plays a part – apparently height, weight, fitness are all important to the erstwhile leader. Perhaps all of these are echoes from our past where, in the survival of the fittest, stature and physical appearance were important. According to science journalist and author Anjana Ahuja, who has studied the evolutionary basis of leadership “If you ask children to look at candidates in an electoral contest, very often they will pick out the same winner as the electorate.”
Whilst we are sure many of you have already determined to hit the gym more frequently in 2011 as part of your New Year’s resolutions, perhaps you hadn’t considered that the exercise would help your leadership capabilities?
However, looking the part is not going to help if you make the wrong decisions, are indecisive, fail to deliver a compelling vision or are unable to inspire others to things that even they thought were not possible. These things can be learned though. Leadership is essentially behavioral and, if we consider great leaders both past and present, we can determine the values, beliefs and behaviours they demonstrate which set them apart as great leaders. After that it is case of applying and demonstrating those same characteristics ourselves – practicing and developing our skills over time. Doing this lets us approach our leadership roles differently but to still maintain our integrity and passion – effectively approaching each situation in an appropriate way.
As with all things worth investing in, there is no switch that can be flicked on to instantly make us great leaders. It takes time and practice and mistakes will be made along the way. Of course, as aspiring ‘great leaders’ we will recognize those mistakes as positive things and we will learn from them to enhance our skills in the process.
If, as part of your personal development plan for 2011, you have the aspiration to develop your leadership skills, then be reassured that those skills can be learned. Furthermore, while there are certain personality characteristics that make it easier or harder for us as individuals to adopt different behaviours, the appropriate behaviours can be learned and practiced with the right coaching and support.
Finally, as you develop your personal development and career plan in 2011 don’t state the common, generic, need to ‘become a better leader’ but concentrate on stating specific areas that you want to focus on. For example; personal effectiveness, political astuteness, financial literacy, decision-making etc. Then determine the best way to close the skill/behaviour gap and make sure you find a way to measure your progress.
Good luck in 2011 and we look forward to your company throughout the year…

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