Tag Archive for: Nature Versus Nurture

Some months ago I read a post written by Colleen Sharen titled, Leaders Are Born, Not Made.

I have continued to think through this question, particularly as I have changed my views somewhat over the years. I felt it appropriate to provide further insight into this question of leadership, based on my response to the original blog.

It appears Colleen hit the right note to stimulate thought and some controversy based on the various responses from other readers that were posted in response. My belief is that leaders can be taught and developed, however there is a ‘minimum’ requirement that must exist to start with i.e. emotional intelligence, intelligence, physical, personality along with other skills, traits, behaviours and attributes.

What I am interested to discover (and I continue to look for this when developing and working with newer and more experienced leaders) is to what degree is the nature versus nurture argument a reality. The follow up comments in the blog generally agreed that leaders are made and born. This is consistent with my view, however I wonder why we continue to ask the question, inferring that it must be one or the other!

An individual requires a base level of potential and attributes to work from. Not every person can be a leader.

In fact, believing that anyone can be a leader potentially cheapens the dedication and challenges that effective leadership requires. Maybe being born with 60% (???) of the necessary attributes and potential (nature), with the remainder being learned (nurture) through development, role models, personal experience etc. is one theory. I believe that there must be some innate potential that is ingrained.

I have seen leaders truly develop into their roles, however in retrospect the majority of them possessed a reasonable level of the necessary leadership traits to begin with. What differentiated many of them was their willingness to face their reality and develop a few core gaps whilst focusing on their strengths.

The argument of nature versus nurture to me is not the key question. The bigger question, no matter where or how you obtained your role, is how effective are you as a leader?

What I do know is that not all leaders by name are leaders in practice – a title does not make you a leader. Unfortunately, this is more the norm than the exception.

Why is it that people are prepared to spend time practicing learning an instrument, language, sporting skill or similar but are less willing to apply lengthy practice schedules in developing leadership skills?

As part of my various roles, I often facilitate leadership training in a group setting and conduct coaching and mentoring sessions with attendees. It’s not always the case, however the one-on-one session content often refers back to the leadership training itself. This is powerful in that training rarely leads to lasting change in itself – something most of us already know. Reinforcing the knowledge gained through practice and support is a key. The opportunity to reflect internally and share with your coach or mentor adds weight to the ‘stickability’ of the training concept, content and the growth in ability for the budding leader.
The age-old leadership question remains – are leaders born or taught – nature or nurture? I am not seeking to answer this today, however the question relates. If you subscribe to the theory that leadership is predominantly learned, then it is natural to assume that to become proficient in leadership application, many weeks, months and years of practice is required. Malcolm Gladwell refers to the premise that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become proficient in something. Fair comment, but the anomaly remains that most leaders I know assume that this skill is something that comes with a title and/or somehow automatically derives from holding a management position for a period. This is perplexing and, as stated, is inconsistent with the belief of practice application in other aspects of our lives.
Is it because leadership is less tangible than hearing someone practice and improve playing a musical instrument over time; become more proficient playing golf, as measured by a reducing score or handicap or other examples of measured improvement? The perceived intangibles of leadership are difficult to describe to someone who has not felt the pleasure of leadership such as turning around a ‘problem team member’; helping someone through a difficult situation; or seeing improved results, profit or other measurable outcomes, amongst other leadership inputs/outputs.
The benefits of leadership success are some of the most powerful emotional accomplishments an individual can feel. Yet, until these are actually felt and the wins uncovered, a commitment to leadership is possibly one of the great contradictions of business. The role may require it but that does not mean leadership is actually provided to any depth.
Leadership is often talked about. It is a key to business success. The links are obvious, yet we still struggle to genuinely encourage and support our newer leaders to a level where they are comfortable performing more than transactional aspects of the role.
The desire to practice and become truly proficient and efficient as a leader requires us as experienced leaders, to help expose the emotional benefits and connections as soon as possible in the leadership journey. This emotional success and association with leadership as more than simply a concept or byword drives ongoing commitment and transformational change in an individual. Once experienced, this once elusive success quickly becomes a tangible benefit for those being led and the potential to truly influence outcomes.