The scene: an executive is reviewing the career development plans of one of his managers. They start talking about the need for the manager to develop leadership skills.
Executive: “Have you read Goleman’s book, Primal Leadership?”
Manager: “I don’t read books about leadership. Leaders are born, not made.”
There are no ‘born’ leaders, however we are all born with unique strengths that help us in our leadership journeys – they are within us, and with most people, they stay within. The notion that leaders are born, and others therefore will never be leaders, is illogical, depressing and seriously limiting to every human being. The idea suggests that the moment babies are born they either have the genetics to be a leader, or they do not. This argument would be fine if the definition of leadership, and leaders, had been constant for the past 50 years, but it is not. Indeed, more has been discovered about leadership and human behaviour in the last 20 years than in the previous 1,000.
Furthermore, the ‘born’ argument does not take into account the effect that experience and learning has on our personalities, behaviours and on our inner selves.
Leadership is a skill and a habit. Like most skills and habits, one that improves with practice. As we become more skilled – the habit takes over – we worry less about the mechanics of doing it and focus more on the outcomes to be achieved.
And so it is with personality, much of personality is a set of responses that have become habits. Often these were developed with little forethought or awareness in school or at home. Presented with a challenge we try a response, if it works we remember it and use it again. If it works often enough, we use it without too much thought and it becomes a habit. Take any set of habits, mix and stir, and we create our own unique approach to life.