Great leaders – Born or made?

Are leaders born or made is a question often asked of leadership coaches and leadership psychologists.

The answer seems to be that whilst psychologists acknowledge that whilst some individuals are born with innate leadership qualities, the majority of successful leaders develop and enhance their skills throughout their life. So even persons born with leadership qualities need to fine tune their skills before reaching their full potential.

While some people have a natural capacity to lead, not all these people are successful leaders. Others, born without the natural capacity to lead, learn to become great leaders. This is the premise of a 2012 article in Forbes Magazine and rings true in many articles dealing with the born or learned leadership question.

Whether the leader is born or taught it is quite clear what qualities make great leaders. Great leaders have a number of similar behaviours.  An effective leader has certain key qualities.

According to Forbes, the most dominant characteristic of leaders is self-awareness, not to be confused with self-interest.

Good leaders are self-aware and driven to improve. This is a quality born into some persons but learned by others. Leadership trainers report that only about 25 percent of the executives with which they work are self-aware at the outset. However, the more self-aware an individual is, the easier he or she is to coach and teach.

Self-aware people accept the need for improvement and, in fact, embrace it wholeheartedly. Being self-aware is described as having the ability on a daily basis, “to cultivate an accurate sense of how you show up in the world and what motivates you.” Self-aware leaders understand their strengths and their weaknesses and are very conscious of their own moral compass and are unafraid to use that compass as a form of guidance.

Qualities of leaders who are not self-aware and lack the moral compass are often:

  • Insensitivity
  • Over-bearing
  • Impatience
  • Regimented
  • Ultra-disciplined

In fact, these qualities are believed to be contrary to the common good. Men who lead other people into battle, women who staff emergency rooms or head gigantic corporations or manage a successful football team do not possess these qualities. That is not to say good leaders are not driven and demanding. They are consistent in their performance expectations and in their approach to risk and in their use of compliments.

Being Self-Aware

Psychology Today and Forbes agree on certain leadership qualities that are associated with leadership. They suggest there are three key qualities of great self-aware leaders.

Be A Fair Witness – Persons that are self-aware rarely rush to conclusions. Being a fair witness is to report the details of a situation fairly and without bias and then analytically critiquing the report. Great leaders understand the need to put emotions aside, a discipline in itself. Analysing the report requires a reflection of all actions, possibilities, strengths and weaknesses of all possibilities.

Always Invite Feedback – Leaders must learn to accept and encourage feedback. Understand that you may not always hear what you want to hear. Great leaders use this feedback as part of the learning experience because they are always consumed with being better at what they do, what they say, how they act and how they are perceived. To gain a better sense of how the leader is performing in a larger view, leaders often build a small group of persons with different areas of expertise and consult with them. The purpose of this group is to be straightforward and brutally honest if necessary. Great leaders are self-aware enough to understand they make mistakes.

Great Listening Abilities – Simply put, great leaders are great listeners. When a leader fails to be a great listener, he or she fails to be a great leader. This is an undeniable truth. Not all of us are blessed with great listening skills and in this day of digital imaging and messaging, being a great listener can be a challenging pursuit. Fortunately, learning to be a good listener can be taught.

Being a good listener is the most basic fundamental of self-awareness. Being a good listener means being able to focus on the presentation, regardless of its rationality or irrationality.

If you would like to be a great leader, you may begin by focusing on these qualities. If you are in need of fine-tuning or new training, leadership coaches are available. Developing these skills can lead to a life of great fulfilment.

From Raw Material To Leadership

Society needs leaders, now more than ever. Given that there are not enough born leaders, there is demand for leadership training and converting raw material into solid leaders.

The qualities above are what enable leaders to perform proper analysis, configure solutions and promote problem solving. Noted leadership scholar, Bernard Bass, said; “The leader must be able to know what followers want, when they want it, and what prevents them from getting what they want.” Developing your self-awareness skills makes all this possible.

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Bob Bradley

Bob is a specialist in running high value added service businesses, having run five such businesses as General Manager, Managing Director or Chief Executive. His last employed role was as Chief Executive of a £16M, 200 person family owned business having previously been Chief Executive of an AIM listed company for which he raised £5M funding and which he grew from £4M to £12M in three years through two acquisitions and organic growth, and a corporate PLC subsidiary where he was Managing Director responsible for delivering £10M profit on £45M turnover through 450 staff.

Bob is now following a portfolio career providing entrepreneurial business leaders with mentoring and coaching around business leadership, business growth, merger integration and exit planning.

Core to his portfolio is MD2MD. Having experienced for himself the value of having a strong sounding board of fellow Managing Directors he founded MD2MD in 2004 to provide groups of business leaders with a confidential environment within which they can support and challenge each other to raise their game as leaders and by doing so improve the success of their organisation.

More about Bob

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