Anyone can be a leader under the right conditions.
Some people are naturally predisposed to be strong leaders – or at least, that’s the way it seems. If a person consistently showcases emotional intelligence, decisiveness, and respect from a young age, it’s natural to predict that they’ll someday become an impressive, respected leader.
But is it possible to become a strong leader even without these inherent qualities?
Are good leaders born that way or are they created?
Nature and Nurture
This question can be boiled down to a simple debate of nature vs. nurture. If you've ever taken a psychology course, or spoken to an expert about human development, you're likely already familiar with this premise. How much of a person's thought patterns, behaviours, and other characteristics are purely a result of the genetic lottery, and how much of these things are a result of their upbringing and environment?
For example, if a person is prone to outbursts of anger and violence, is that because they were always genetically predisposed to be on that path? After all, they might come from a family that is also prone to outbursts of anger and violence, so they could have inherited these genes. Then again, their vulnerability to outbursts could be a byproduct of simply being raised in this environment.
Most of us see elements of both nature and nurture as playing a role in human development, so it's only natural that we think both are a part of determining good leaders. Executive leadership coaching exists for this very reason; executive leadership coaches visit businesses to identify prospective candidates for future leadership, provide training and consulting and eventually mould those prospective candidates into better leaders. In other words, these coaches recognise that some people are naturally predisposed to be better leaders, but it still takes training and development for them to see their full potential.
Now let's take a look at the individual cases for leaders being born and leaders being created.
The Case for Leaders Being Born
There are some characteristics of effective leaders that could be immutable and present from birth. At least some of your personality is determined genetically and is beyond your control. If a person is naturally charismatic because of the way they treat other people, or if they're naturally disciplined enough that they seem to be good at everything they try, it makes sense that this person could grow up to become a better leader.
There are a few problems with this, however. For example, it stands to reason that a person who is naturally predisposed to become a leader may have no interest in developing their leadership skills; if they choose to squander these skills in pursuit of something entirely different, they may never become an effective leader, despite having the genetic predisposition for it.
Conversely, it seems that many important leadership qualities are ones that can be taught, trained, or developed; even if you spend most of your life without these qualities, you may be able to develop them within yourself later on in your career.
According to one empirical study from University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES), leadership is approximately 30 percent attributable to immutable genetic characteristics and 70 percent attributable to lessons learned through life experiences.
Notice that “life experiences” is intentionally vague. That's because leadership qualities and leadership tendencies can develop in a wide number of different ways. You could be taught by your parents. You could learn these traits from one of your friends growing up. You could naturally learn important lessons by experiencing failure or managing a small team at your first job. You can, of course, also learn leadership skills throughout your career, especially if you seek the help of executive leadership coaching.
There are so many different ways that people can become strong leaders, even if they have little to no genetic predisposition for it, that it's hard to make the case that leaders are naturally born. That said, we also can't afford to neglect the reality that some people have a naturally easier time fitting into leadership positions.
Think of it this way. You're considering whether to promote candidate A or candidate B. Candidate A is a naturally charming person who gets along with other people, isn't afraid to make decisions, and radiates confidence, but they don't actively work hard to develop themselves. Candidate B is a bit introverted and shy and doesn't naturally radiate charisma, but they work extremely hard, they intentionally cultivate better leadership skills, and they're always learning from people more experienced than they are. Which candidate would you hire?
The Bottom Line
The bottom line here is that leadership is a byproduct of both nature and nurture. Some people are naturally predisposed to be better leaders, but it's important to recognise that even people born without this predisposition can be trained and moulded to fit a leadership role.
Overall, if forced to choose one over the other, it seems like life experience plays a much more significant role in developing leaders than genetics – which means anyone can be a leader under the right conditions.
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