Leadership for Life – Born or Made?

By on November 15, 2013
Leadership for Life - Born or Made?

Our Leadership experts will be sharing tips and insights for everyone, at any station in life, at both home and work. Leadership for Life – the skills you embrace represent who you really are at all times.

Every generation has its great leaders, and every generation asks the same question: “Are leaders born or made?” And in every generation, theories rise and fall in popularity; some support the nature viewpoint, others the nurture viewpoint.

Whatever the theory, most researchers have tried to assign certain attributes to leadership, some of which appear to be inherent, while others are learned. The answer to the question, “Are leaders born or made?” appears to be, “It depends.”

Many attributes of leadership that appear to be most agreed upon, such as intelligence, are open to interpretation. After all, how does one define intelligence? Is intelligence purely cognitive? Can it be defined and measured by how fast someone can read? By how arithmetically skilled s/he is? Is it about “Emotional” intelligence, which is all about interpersonal relations? Is it about analytical/strategic ability, the ability to see the big picture? After decades of research, we still don’t know.

Sometimes leaders emerge from situations and conditions that come up unexpectedly, such as on the battlefield or in other emergencies. “Situational” or “emergent” leadership is another whole field of study.

So outside of graduate seminars, who really cares? Well, we all should care about being able to identify people who have leadership potential, regardless of how it got there. We can do this by observation and measurement of behaviors that prove to be important and productive in a work environment. Once you can identify what leadership looks like, you can watch for it and reinforce it.

One approach to organizational study that has emerged over the past 30 years or so is Appreciative Inquiry (AI). This is an approach that has as many definitions as practitioners, but essentially is an approach to organizational development that emphasizes the positive aspects of behavior and organizations, as opposed to problem solving approaches. AI is particularly relevant to the search for leadership traits and behaviors, and helps to identify individuals with leadership potential.

Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer, in the mid 1940s, had the idea – “Accentuate the Positive.” While it may be a stretch to say that this pop song was the precursor to the AI movement, the song makes a strong case for looking on the bright side, for seeking out what works and reinforcing it, rather than being passive and accepting of anything that comes along.

The bottom line is that leadership, wherever it comes from, is about behavior. We identify leaders by what they do, and that should make it easy to find them.

Looking for a few good leaders? We can help. Give us a call at 314-539-5329 or email bschapiro@stlcc.edu.

About Barry Schapiro

Barry is the Workforce Solutions Group Practice Leader for Leadership and Professional Development. His experience includes delivery and management of business training in a variety of industries, with specialties in leadership, team development, generational diversity, and customer service. Twitter

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