Yes, they are born and yes they need development and in addition, if those are the only questions we ask, then we fail. There is a missing secret ingredient that makes all the difference.
No two leaders are alike. No two areas that need leadership require the exact same skills. No single person can successfully lead all people in all circumstances, no matter how talented they are in Leadership. So what do Leaders need to be successful and how are those requirements discovered for each Leadership role?
Observe the visible activity of an existing successful leader in a given role and you should be able to identify some repeatable actions that seem to produce healthy outcomes. With some interpretation, these actions are often inferred into character traits that we believe produce the healthy Leadership actions. Those character traits are then sought after in the Leader who will play that role, in the hopes that the observational conclusions prove correct and the Leader does, in fact, effectively lead in that role.
Common Leadership Traits
These inferred character traits often look like; trust, motivation, clarity, action, encouragement, decisiveness, resilience, stability, authenticity and intention. All these character traits are good and can often be found in effective Leaders, but their presence, does not mandate strong Leadership. In the same way that a horse born into a racing stable will never be a racehorse if it is bred to be a workhorse, regardless of where it is born. Similarly, the awareness of WHO we are and where our true abilities and talents lie, and not just what we do, is the secret ingredient to effective authentic Leadership. The cool part of discovering these Talents and abilities is that they also point to where we will most successfully display true Leadership.
The secret to developing Leaders from scratch is to begin with WHO they are rather than WHAT they do. What a Leader does comes first from who they are. To place the what before the who, is the same as trying to infuse character traits into an individual, who may or may not be wired that way, simply because the description of the role they play requires it. That often ends up frustrating the Leader and setting them up for failure because they are forced to function out of traits that they may not possess.
Helping the Leader discover who they are before describing what they should do, ensures repeatable and flexible productivity in their role, because their Leadership comes from their enduring Identity. Their Leadership is thus sourced in their Identity, making it inherently transferable and applicable in a variety of circumstances. Furthermore orienting roles and Leadership around Talent and ability first, sends an unspoken message to the person, which acknowledges where the Talent is coming from and orients it in an appropriate hierarchy i.e. acknowledging who they are as primary and what they do as secondary, makes them feel more valued. In other words, who they are as people matters most, then what they contribute comes second. This is very affirming and fosters a sense of stability, a critical measure in strong Leadership
If the person is the focus and the objective is to help them into some leadership role yet undetermined, then the ideal starting point is to uncover who they are first i.e identify their talents and abilities, then, growing out of who they are, show them what they can do that best leverages their talents and abilities. This sets them up for success and to contribute using their strongest Talents. It is here that Leadership looks and feels most authentic and commonly seems effortless. Here leadership is rewarding to the leader and the followers and is self-energizing because it so directly affirms the Leader, when they use their innate abilities.
On the other hand, if filling a specific role is the objective, then following the ‘who’ first rule, requires that the ideal candidate’s Identity or talents and abilities (their ‘who’) be known before a selection is made. In this case Leaders are sometimes incorrectly assigned because some ideal ‘who’ parameters are loosely established before the search begins. Then when a candidate is under consideration, they get matched against the previous persons abilities and if they appear similar, the assumption is that they will be a good hire and perform the tasks at least as well as the predecessor.
The error with this approach is that it assumes only those talents can accomplish the required leadership outcomes. The truth is, there are many ways to accomplish Leadership in any given role. What must be present for good Leadership though is clearly defined objectives and the freedom for the Leader to use their innate Talents to authentically lead from a place of Strength.