Leadership is the art of inspiring a group of people to act towards achieving a common goal. One group of thought defines leadership as the art of influencing and directing people in a way that will win their obedience, confidence, respect, and loyal in cooperation in achieving common objectives. From both definitions and many others, it is noticeable that the words art, influence, and achievements are present and if not, the synonyms to these words are. From this one can state that a leader, or one who demonstrates leadership, is a person who has the ability or the skill to affect human behavior to accomplish a task designated by him.
Many people believe that the skill of leading others is learned while others, especially psychologists, believe that leadership qualities are inherent or inborn meaning that leaders are born. Psychologists have used genetics studies to support their argument that leaders are born and thus, it is impossible to learn how to be a leader. On the other hand, research on the topic indicates that leaders are made and that there are various qualities possessed by all leaders that anyone can learn.
Leaders are born
Those who support this statement argue that many organizations have and continue to train employees through a series of programs to make them leaders but their programs have continuously failed. Many proponents for this view say that many supervisors and managers have been assigned or put on leadership positions but they have not been able to achieve their targets in running their organizations even after training due to lack of adequate leadership skills. A supervisor or a manager of a big company may do an excellent job overseeing his or her workers and/or ensuring that all processes are running as planned to ensure the productivity of such a company is guaranteed. A parent may be very effective at supervising activities and ensuring that all members of his or her family are comfortable in their lives when all things are running smoothly. In both of these examples, the manager and the parent can all be effective at managing and supervising tasks which they are adapted to performing in their lives on a day-by-day basis. In other words, they are good at functional tasks.
Everybody can be able to work effectively when he or she is dealing with functional tasks. This means anybody can be a manager or a supervisor of their or other people’s affairs. In this example, suppose the normal situations and circumstances change. Changes may affect the normal processes in a company or the regular settings in the family. This is when creativity is called for and skills to chart the way forward in such times are very important. The managers may lack the confidence or the courage to make decisions that will affect the normal operations positively. They may lack the creativity to deal with problems.
The decisions made in times of change, risks and unprecedented occurrences that affect the normal running of operations in companies or even in simple system settings will call for the intervention of leaders. Although they may make the wrong decisions, leaders will always be confident about the decisions they make and if things don’t work out they will always admit mistakes and look for other solutions and change the direction. Despite making mistakes, true leaders will always finally seem to come up with a solution and they will always have the confidence of their followers. When there are problems or when there is a need to chart the way forward, leaders always seem to act impulsively and this quality makes people seek them instinctively.
This is an important quality noted here which is the action that comes from leaders instinctively without being pushed. For managers, action may be excited after certain circumstances requiring correction. For the leaders, acting instinctively calls for some attribute or characteristic that is not tangible but is naturally recognizable. From this, it is easy to conclude that a leader has inborn characteristics that make people recognize them. The inborn characteristics of making leaders be recognized rather than be chosen make the argument that leaders are born true.
Vision is a quality possessed by all great leaders and this is what makes people follow them unquestionably. Almost all the great leaders in history were able to convince people of what they believe while others led their people to great wars and all the times their followers obeyed and followed the leaders without doubts even when death was certain. Alexander the Great, one of the most successful military commanders in history, and Julius Caesar are just two examples of leaders who were able to conquer great empires and battles during their times. They led multitudes of men in wars and they were able to conquer their enemies. In his book, ‘Are leaders born or are they made? In the case of Alexander the Great’, Manfred F.R. Kets De Vries describes Alexander as a man who had a dream that intrigued humankind. It is right to say that such leaders had great visions that forced them to action. They trusted in their instincts and believed in what was invisible to their colleagues.
Such greatness in prompting one to act on big and complex ambitions can’t be processed to someone by learning but it must be an indescribable innate characteristic. If leaders were made then we would know a lot about the people who taught and made such leaders as Alexander. The fact that many great leaders were persistent in pursuing their dream despite all odds was because they believed in themselves without the slightest doubt. This means they were not depending on some lessons taught in classes, otherwise, when things got tough they would just give up and consider the lessons learned as untrue and not dependable.
In an interview, London business School’s lecturer, Nigel Nicholson, explains that an important requirement for a leader is the desire to lead. He goes on to say that there are three types of people: firstly there are those who have the drive to lead others no matter the circumstances they are in. secondly there are those who have no interest to lead even when chances present themselves, and finally, there are those who are set to lead under certain conditions. While the first group forms the minority, the majority of people fall under the second group, and given a chance they could somehow lead people successfully. Most of the people are in the last group.
Nicholson argues that the drive to lead comes from inherited genes. From his argument, we could be interested in knowing what makes those who want to be leaders have the desire while others do not have the desire or a burning urge to lead others even when a chance presents itself. One may argue that people can become good leaders if they learn most of the skills which make one a leader. The question then to ask is what would make someone have the motivation to learn the skills necessary for making them a leader? It would require a lot of motivation for one to decide to acquire the skills to make one a leader. Where does this motivation and will to lead come from if not from deep inside of an individual? From this, we can only conclude that leaders are born and not made.
History shows that most leaders in the past who failed in achieving their goals did so because of wrong interpretation of situations and making a wrong judgment on circumstances surrounding them. Making the wrong judgment would only be based on the leaders’ perceptions of things and how they interpret and act on information getting to them. This process of synthesizing information would reflect the characteristics of such leaders and would tell much about their personality, values, and abilities. Failing to achieve goals shows a lack of the necessary abilities and skills to be a leader. Most of the leaders who have failed in the past and lost the trust of their followers even with lots of training on leadership indicate that leadership is reserved for those born with the qualities to be leaders.
Motivational speakers today believe that there are certain skills which when consistently learned can make one a ‘better leader. It is good to note the word ‘better’ leader meaning that one has to be a leader from the start and the additional skills learned will only add to the leadership qualities that exist in an individual. These qualities then seem to have to be there for one to be a better leader and so one has to earn them before even learning the necessary skills. In other words, one has to be born a leader to become a better leader in the future when he or she is mature. Otherwise, teaching the skills to someone who doesn’t have the qualities will not make him a leader.
The reason why we can have many good managers and not leaders are because management is a career involving the manner or practice of managing, handling, and supervision of operations in an organizational setting based on certain guidelines while leadership is a calling involving having defined convictions and the courage to see those convictions become reality. To be a leader one has to understand his/her role and the guide for direction will be his/her own most deeply held truths. This quality which is what defines leaders is scarce and is acquired at birth and determined by the genetic makeup of an individual.
Leaders are made
The qualities that are the raw materials of leadership can be acquired and when they are combined with desire will make one a leader. Leadership involves the urge or the yearning to influence others. The ability to influence others, although is an important quality, does not always mean that everybody having it is a leader. To be able to motivate people towards achieving a common goal will always require among other factors extreme hard work from the leader. Besides hard work, there are some characteristics that the leader is required to possess to effectively lead his or her team towards achieving success in his/her endeavors.
To start with the leader has to have a vision. This is the ability to visualize the dream and direction shared by other people and this is what makes them want to follow their leader. A vision may motivate followers but it may not provide direction. The leader is required to share a vision with his followers and provide direction so that his people can follow. One can’t share a vision of something he doesn’t have an idea about and this will call for learning of what the people want to accomplish and how to achieve it. The leader has to learn the dynamics of processes involved in trying to attain results.
We can hence say that a leader has to learn to share a vision with the people and come up with direction on the way forward in solving whatever problem the people want to be sorted. This skill can only be learned and even those born with leadership skills may not be able to understand or know how their decisions may affect results until they familiarize themselves with the various forces, technicalities, and dynamics in play in the problem involved. Failure to understand the problem will make the people lack trust in the leader and he won’t be able to lead them.
According to experts in performance management, sportsmen and women are the only people born with an advantage where their body size and type may allow them to participate in their chosen sports. All other achievers especially leaders, in the business world, management, or other careers will always succeed in their chosen fields because of hard work. Hard work without the essential skills that enable them to make the right decisions will be wasted. The necessary skills may include the ability to visualize obstacles, knowledge of the situation, ability to set goals, making decisions, motivating others, pursuing lifelong learning among others.
It is obvious that to be a leader one has to be committed to acquiring these skills through progressive training. Armed with these skills, one stands a better chance of success as a leader. Neglecting all these skills means that one thought to be a born leader may not have the knowledge of the situation and may lack the ability to lead people who realize the leader lacks all of these qualities. Such people may lack the trust of their leader even if he has a vision.
Understanding leadership and leading are two different things and being a person who not only understands leadership but leads in real-life situations is determined by one’s nature or character. The qualities that make up one’s character will always influence one’s ability to lead others. The reaction to various problems and situations and the options and as a result the decisions and choices one makes shapes the character of an individual. It is correct then to say that learning which involves solving various problems makes one not just understand leadership but be able to lead people. Consequently, we can say that leaders are made because they have to learn how to lead. In this case, the finding of solutions to problems and things they go through in their lives is what makes people leaders.
Children with parents who value and practice self-development and practice leadership instill them with the tools to become leaders. Self-development coaches agree that parents who work on developing their leadership become better parents and in the process, they also transfer the skills they learn at the workplace to their homes which goes to their children. In setting their goals, the parents, who learn the skills of motivating others as a prerequisite for leadership, help their children by teaching them this virtue. Children in an environment where the parents nurture their development, growth, and learning will grow up believing in themselves and this inspires them to be the best. This is because they will try to imitate their parents who act as their role models.
Interviews carried out on various organizations and military leaders indicate that they all had parents who were committed and very involved in setting goals for them. The parents were good at setting a good example and maintained a high standard of moral behavior. Children from such families will have a lot of confidence and will display leadership qualities when placed together with the ones who grew up in not-too-involved parents and this gives the former group an advantage in their adulthood in learning to be better leaders. The parents involved in the bringing up of disciplined children prepare them for leadership positions in the future.
In today’s world and any organizational setting, one can’t expect the subordinates to follow them obediently and to maintain higher standards than the leader if the leader himself/herself doesn’t rise above them. If the expectations of the people are higher than what the leader demonstrates, then the leader will not have the trust of the people. The people expect that the leader has initiative, moral courage, or standing for what is right, accountability, vision, and among others and equally important a deep understanding of operations in the business or the organization one is leading. To have all these skills and many others enhancing leadership, one must seek to continually develop himself through learning. The learning will involve coaching from other leaders and attending various leadership lessons and failure to which all the plans of the leader will never see the light of day. In other words, all these practices aimed at gaining experience make the leader.
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Lance Secretan (2004) Inspire! What Leaders Do, John Wiley and Sons Publishers, United States.
Lee A. Iacocca, Catherine Whitney (2007) Where have all the Leaders Gone: Scriber Publishers, United Kingdom.
Lenore Mewton, Leaders are Made, not Born, www.psychologytoday.com
Manfred F.R. Kets de Vrries, Elizabeth Engellau (2004) Are Leaders Born or are they made?: The case of Alexander the Great. Karnac Publishers, United Kingdom.
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