Natural Born Leaders

Among the discussions on leadership topic there is a question that stirs waves and tides.

Are leaders born or self created?

The questions strikingly ressembles the one related to intelligence – whether inherited or gained during life time. In both cases, the quasi-genetic alternative emanates a strong perfume of fatalism that would reduce considerably the mankind chances to have adequate leaders.

There are lists of traits defining leaders. If anybody is curious, I could provide a self assessment questionnaire to measure his/her alignment to these traits.

For me, it is obvious that leaders, as human beings, are different in what relates to the toolset used to lead teams whether defined by hierarchy or completely based on common trust.  I also believe that leaders that are well equiped can and sometimes should adjust their tools depending on circumstances and followers.

There are ingredients in the leadership mix that can be associated with genetic features. The typical example is intuition – much discussed but not quite clarified.  It is certain that there are no courses or pills for infailible intuition, although it is very true that emotional intelligence which can be achieved throughout lifetime is a powerful substitute.

Let’s do an exercise.

  • What is the fundamental duty of a leader?
    The leader leads towards a valuable goal along a new path.
  • What tools does the leader use to accomplish the goal?
    Decisiveness, courage, motivation, respect and trust from his/her followers.

Let’s take them one by one:

The decisiveness derives from the leader’s conviction transmitted to the followers that the goal is worth the efforts and risks associated with the journey. The example of Pizzarro, the conquistador who ordered the burning of ships in order to ensure the soldiers’ focus on reaching “El Dorado” , is classic for the determination of one individual forcefully exerted on the others. But there are also examples of determination instilled to others by sheer personal example and charisma– Gandhi or Martin Luther King.

The courage is the ambition and belief of the leader that obstacles are meant to be surpassed. Churchill’s speech addressed to his British fellows at the beginning of the second world war is always cited as a perfect example of publicly expressed courage. “We shall never surrender.

The motivation is based on stimulating the others to assume the common goal at personal level. The leader’s interest to know his/her followers is crucial. This allows the leader to customize the approach for the maximization of cummulative impact. It is said about Alexander the Great, Caesar and Napoleon that they greeted their soldiers on their first names, even if they could safely rely on the powerful force of army discipline to reach their military objective. All of them successfully led armies beyond any geographical limits imaginable to people in those days.

The respect is born out of the real or perceived superiority of the leader versus followers. After all, Nelson Mandela, newly released from the prison, could not guarantee success, but the respect he gained for his long imprisonment abiding by his own beliefs was more than enough to transform him into the president of South Africa. In Europe close to us, Lech Walesa fulfilled the same role based on the same respect.

Trust is the result of repeating a dignified, loyal and beneficial behaviour in front of followers. Trust is the bond and essential stimulus of a team following a leader regardless of circumstances and personality. Mother Theresa is an example from which we can learn a lot about leadership for various cultures, conditions and goals.

My conclusion is that all these vital ingredients in the formula of leadership success derive from one’s behavior and do not depend on the form of DNA spiral.

What do you think?