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Are leaders born great?

Posted On: 15/05/2017

Next month’s general election has dominated the headlines for a whole host of reasons. One being the numerous stories regarding Jeremy Corbyn and whether he should step down as Labour leader following what people predict will be a landslide defeat for the party.


These stories have been particularly revealing when it comes to finding out people’s attitudes towards leadership. Comments such as “out of his depth” and “leadership doesn’t come naturally” have recurred and suggest one thing: some people are just not meant to lead. So, if you don’t have the traditional qualities that make a great leader, you should probably move aside and let someone better suited take your place.     


Is this fair? Moving away from politics and into the world of business, we find that this view is widely echoed. Successful leaders possess a special set of qualities, which are an intrinsic part of their personality. How often do you hear successful leaders described as visionary, dynamic, inspiring or charismatic? All are intangible character traits that cannot be taught, so surely great leaders must be born and not made.


However, there’s a flaw in this theory. While all of those words are associated with excellent leaders, you should take a closer look at them. Aren’t these just words used to describe a leader when you see them doing their job properly? Although they certainly capture the essence of leadership, they don’t get to the heart of what it takes to be a leader. To do that, you need to go back a step and look at what’s actually gone into the making of a leader.


From our experience, people can only become great leaders through experience, observation and learning. If they want to remain great leaders they need to keep on developing themselves and adapting to a business world that changes on a seemingly daily basis. All of which, goes beyond any natural born ability.


We’ve worked with some of the best and brightest leaders in the UK and firmly believe great leaders develop over time. However, that’s not to say that there isn’t some level of innate ability required. One skill in particular is extremely difficult to teach and forms a key component for effective leadership: self-awareness.


It’s only through self-awareness that leaders can recognise, accept and embrace those areas that require further learning and development. We’ve always found that the more self-aware a leader is, the easier they are to coach, receive feedback and make improvements.  


So, you now can see there’s a good reason why the leadership debate rages on. Experience tells us that great leadership, although mostly developed and learnt over time, requires a certain attitude and approach that simply cannot be taught. What do you think? We’d love to get your thoughts on whether leaders are born or made and hear about your experiences. 

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