Are leaders born Craig Johns Nelson Mandela

ARE LEADERS BORN?

nelson-mandela
Nelson Mandela – Photo Credit: Seattle Globalist

ARE LEADERS BORN?

Nature (our DNA) and nurture (environmental influences) both need to be taken into consideration when trying to understand how a leader is formed. The way I like to look at whether leaders are Born or Made, is by looking at leadership capability through the concept of a bell-curve.

At the bottom of the curve, there are ~10% of people that will struggle, no matter how hard they try, to be a good leader. Their DNA is just not wired to lead and every amount of training is unlikely to get them to a position where they can lead effectively. On the top of the bell curve are the ~10% of people who are born to lead. They are born with an innate instinct to lead. As they grow and develop they tend to continue getting better and better.

The other ~80% of people in the middle have the potential to be good leaders, if not great leaders. They have to be prepared to work really hard on their leadership skills, especially self-awareness. This involves learning how to take a ‘birds-eye-view’ of yourself, be open to asking for feedback and developing great listening skills.

However, I do believe that the world’s most exceptional visionary leaders are highly likely to only come from the ~10% of people who are born leaders.

To try and understand some of the discussion points around whether leaders are born or made, let’s look at some of the theories and evidence that support either side of the coin or both sides.

“The greatest leader is not necessarily the one who does the greatest things. They are the one who gets the people to do the greatest things.”

Ronald Reagan (Adapted) 

THEORIES

According to the Great Man Theory, popularised in the 1840’s by Thomas Carlyle and Trait Theory, people inherit certain qualities and traits, which are aligned with leadership. People are born with different qualities that predispose them to be a leader, which is similar to someone who with the natural qualities of a gifted musician or talented athlete. They will naturally excel and thrive when confronted with the appropriate situations, whereas other people will struggle. The most exceptional leaders, don’t become overnight successes, they were leaders from the onset.

Behavioural Theories emphasise that the process of teaching, learning and observation allow people to become leaders. They believe the concept of leadership is something that can be learnt, like a skill through training, practice, perception and making observations over a period of time. But, to what level can a person achieve, from a leadership point of view, if they don’t have the natural charisma, ability to influence, natural integrity, and ability to motivate and inspire?

“Leaders aren’t born, they are made. And they are made just like anything else, through hard work. And that’s the price we’ll have to pay to achieve that goal, or any goal.”

VINCE LOMBARDI

SITUATION

Some people are very good leaders in certain environments, but not others. They may lead well when they know and trust a small team they are working with, whereas they struggle in a larger team of people they don’t know so well. Even exceptional leaders are only effective when they are in specific locations or environments, for example they could be in a family, societal, community, national, or global environment.

Leaders, sometimes, don’t always stand out from the crowd. They are the quiet achievers, who have an uncanny ability lead people away from the limelight and in a very subtle way. Their quiet, softly spoken and under-the-radar approach may have a profound effect on the way people behave, how they perform and decisions they make.

“Leadership is not magnetic personality – that could just as well be a glib tongue. It is not ‘making friends and influencing people’, that is flattery. Leadership is lifting a person’s vision to high sights, the raising of a person’s performance to a higher standard, the building of a personality beyond its normal limitations.”

PETER DRUCKER

GENETIC

There are bodies of research that imply that 30% of leadership is genetic and 70% is learned. Although the percentage of genetic versus learned is likely to vary quite a lot between individual leaders, but it still implies that there is a major learning component to leadership.

Many leaders, tend to have an extroversion trait. They also tend to have high levels of empathy as well as social and emotional intelligence, whereas IQ is not always an important characteristic for a leader. As I discussed earlier, introverts can also be great leaders.

“Leadership is an observable, learnable set of practices. Leadership is not something mystical and ethereal that cannot be understood by ordinary people. Given the opportunity for feedback and practice, those with the desire and persistence to lead can substantially improve their abilities to do so.”

JAMES KOUZES & BARRY POSNER

GROWTH

Great leaders tend to be in constant growth, as they aim to improve every day. They tend to seek new experiences and a greater understanding of themselves.

People who are adjusted, social, ambitious and curious are more likely to become leaders. Their curious nature leads them to learn through mediums such as books, informal training from coaches or mentors, interpretations of life experiences, websites, observations, listening and formal training in an academic type setting.

“The leader must be able to know what followers want, when they want it, and what prevents them from getting what they want.”

BERNARD BASS

FINAL THOUGHTS

Leadership is a reflection of who you are and how you want to improve the world for the better. No matter whether leaders have come from a background of hardship and personal struggles or they have endured leadership through an abundance of resources, everyone can continue to develop their leadership skills through deliberate practice and experience.

Developing as a leader is no different to any other expert, where they grow through deliberate practice, struggle, sacrifice, hard work, and regular self-assessment.

Are leaders born?

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Its your story Craig Johns

IT’S YOUR STORY! How do you want to be remembered?

By Craig Johns

It’s your story! The people who stand out from the crowd and change the world we know, are remembered most for breaking the rules. There are those who break rules for evil and there are those who break the rules for good. Obviously, you want to be on the side who breaks the rules that change the way we think, act, live and move for the better.

We were all put on this planet for a purpose. Many people don’t fulfil their purpose, because it is uncomfortable to break the rules and taking the leap into the unknown tests our emotional fortitude.

Life is about realising who you are, trusting that you have what it takes and allowing the fire inside of you to roar loudly. Your inner drive is the key ingredient to your recipe. Without lighting the flame, you will not know if you are cooking at the right temperature.

You need to take charge, put the pen in your hand and begin writing your own story. Too often people live someone else’s dream, or don’t even have a dream to live. It’s all about owning the dream and not allowing other people to interrupt it.

Until you have become the path itself, you cannot travel the path. You must become one with your story and write it with true conviction. Everything you do and say tells the world about what is going on inside of you. Remember, a tiger hunts best when it is hungry!

The most powerful people in the world are the storytellers. A storyteller gets to set the view, the values and the way we achieve it. They get to set the agenda for the way next generation get to live in the future.

If you own your own story, you get to write the ending. If you leave it to others, you can only be the subject. If you believe in it, you get to narrate it.

How do you want to be remembered?

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Be A rookie

BE A ROOKIE!

By Craig Johns

Have you got a rookie or two? Imagine a workplace that is filled with employees and teams who are full of energy, enthusiasmcuriosity and an inner drive for gaining a competitive edge. Is that yours?

All businesses and organisations want innovation, creativity, productivity and forward progress. But, many leaders stifle their team member’s abilities through the processes, daily habits and environment they create. So how do you create a culture of curiosity, wonder, learning, creativity and inspiration?

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In an ever changing world ‘it’s not what you know, it’s how quickly you can learn’. The more experienced you are as a leader and your team members are, the higher the likelihood of complacency, reduced productivity and a feeling of we already know how this business works.

Do you ever feel jealous when new employees join your organisation full of zest, inquisitiveness and desire to make an immediate difference?

The number one predictor of impact in a business or organisation, is productivity. As leaders we need to be continually ‘changing things up’, providing a culture of forward-thinking and inspiring creativity at all levels of the business or organisation.

Do you ever feel jealous when new employees join your organisation full of zest, inquisitiveness and desire to make an immediate difference? You wonder how they have so much energy, eagerness and why they ask so many questions, even challenging what is working well! You don’t have to wonder, you too can channel the energy of the Rookie!!!

HALTING PROGRESS

Many leaders and managers feel frustrated with Rookies, more commonly known as new employees on their team, as the feel they are a short-term burden and at times a pest. They feel that the time it takes to train and invest in them is holding them back on current projects and immediate priorities. So, are leaders missing the point when we live in a constantly changing and evolving world?

I think so. If we take a look at people with experience, many tend to become stale and predictable, they stop seeing new possibilities and exploring new paths, and they are less likely to seek new perspectives. Due to habits performed over time, they tend to create several blind spots that hinder their growth as well as those they are leading or managing. (Wiseman, Unknown) It doesn’t have to be this way and there are a number of great examples of businesses and organisations, such as Apple, Google and Virgin, that are really effective at bringing out the Rookie in their team members.

“If we take a look at people with experience, many tend to become stale and predictable, they stop seeing new possibilities and exploring new paths, and they are less likely to seek new perspectives.”

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Photo Credit: Kaye Asavathanachard

Before we go into some strategies to develop successful ‘Rookie culture’ businesses or organisations, let’s first understand what usual practices impede an innovative and creative environment. According to Wiseman (Unknown) excessive meetings, criticising ideas, rule overload, resisting change and punishing failure are common ways that leaders effect Rookie’s spirit and creativity.

  • Excessive meetings – stifle progress, discourage Rookies, limited time for brainstorming or new ideas, experienced push their agendas, Rookies not invited to share ideas
  • Criticising ideas – Rookies need time and space to try new ideas. Constant criticism will lead to Rookies becoming disillusioned and a loss of productivity
  • Rule overload – Rookies bring fresh ideas and rules will stifle and prevent new, creative ideas
  • Resisting change – resisting organisational change will show Rookies that ideas are either not welcome or aren’t good enough to succeed previous successes.
  • Punish failure – will lead to people operating in a safe place within the status quo.

As leaders we have to kick ‘mediocrity’ in the butt, and utilise the positive attributes of our Rookies and enhance our business or organisation culture, across the board.

ROOKIES BRING AN EDGE

Rookies tend to be more alert, move quicker and work smarter due to the significant knowledge or skills gap they face. They are primed for knowledge environments where change is occurring quickly, speed of tasks is crucial and innovation matters. However, according to Wiseman (2014) “they’re not well-suited for tasks that require technical mastery or where a single mistake is game-ending”.

Top performing Rookies are alert and seeking, cautious and fast, hungry and relentless, and unencumbered. On the reverse side, low performing Rookies feel invincible, have something to prove and can go into autopilot. When we compare this to experienced team members, the top performers simplify and clarify, they are agile and persistent, and are resourceful. Low performing experienced team members also feel invincible but are hindered by defending a reputation, questioning their own ability and are threatened by the new kids on the block. (Wiseman, 2014)

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Photo Credit: TRIMag Asia

Leaders tend to underestimate the capabilities of Rookies and therefore delegate them mundane, easy and simple tasks when they first start in a role. Why not put their eagerness, energy and enthusiasm to play and allow them to make a difference right away? It provides a great opportunity to develop trust, build their self-esteem, feel part of the team and an opportunity to learn, whether they are successful or fail. They don’t necessarily need to be managed, “they need to be put in the game, pointed in the right direction, and given permission to play” (Wiseman, 2014).

Jon Gordon (Unknown) notes that “Rookies aren’t tainted by rejection, negative assumptions or past experiences. Rookies don’t focus on what everyone says is impossible”.  They tend to “put their head down, work hard, stay positive, live fearlessly and are naïve enough to be successful”. Rookies have a belief that anything is possible and there are no obstacles that are too difficult to navigate. “They bring an idealism, optimism and passion to their work”, and will proactively seek out knowledge, advice and support to make something happen.

They don’t necessarily need to be managed, “they need to be put in the game, pointed in the right direction, and given permission to play” (Wiseman, 2014).

BRING OUT THE ROOKIE IN YOU!

How do we stop the cycle of mediocrity and complacency and bring out the Rookie in all team members, including you as a leader?

Kelley & Kelley (2012) believe that a leader’s job is not to teach our team members creativity, but to help them rediscover their creative confidence. As a child we have a “natural ability to come up with new ideas” and we aren’t afraid give them a go. Through age, our experiences and self consciousness can lead to falling into safe comfort zones as we develop fears that hinder our progress. A leader has the power to reinvigorate team members, and give them the confidence and courage to bring out their creative juices. Kelley and Kelley (2012) suggest leaders should develop strategies to assist team members to overcome four fears that hold most people back:

“fear of the messy unknown, fear of being judged, fear of the first step, and fear of losing control”.

Leaders need to nurture team members in a way that supports an environment of growth and thriving, while helping team members overcoming fears that inhibit them. We need to create ways to reward failure, not just success and reserve punishment only for inaction. As Thomas Sowell once said, “It is amazing how fast people learn when they are not insulated from the consequences of their decisions”.  Team members must understand that learning beats knowing every time, and that progress is a result of wonder and curiosity. Bill Gates believes, “success is a lousy teacher. It seduces smart people into thinking they can’t lose”. So let’s give our team members the permission to fail and to screw up, so we open their minds up to new ideas.

Liz Wiseman (2014) was her most creative and productive, not from having fresh ideas, but from having no ideas at all. She explains that “when you know nothing you’re forced to create something. When you’re a Rookie, you’re also a pioneer. You’re out there on the frontier without confidence, so you have to focus on the basics. You end up operating very lean”. If we look back to when we were a child we liked to have fun and ask all types of questions, including quite a few silly ones. Levitt and Dubner  (2014) identified that “kids are also relentlessly curious and relatively unbiased. Because they know so little, they don’t carry around the preconceptions that often stop people from seeing things as they are.”

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Photo Credit: Sudanong Samantarat (Lek)

What should we do with those team members who spend every day talking and planning about what they are going to do but never do anything, or those are caught up in the ‘good old days’, complain about the way things are and are resistant to change? Should we ask them to leave, move them to a new department, demote them or even fire them? “Rookies don’t have experience. They don’t know about the way things were. They have no knowledge of the good ole days. Instead Rookies create their good ole days right now.” (Jon Gordon, Unknown)

As leaders we need to enable team members to use their experience to provide the business or organisation with expertise, and at the same time catalyse their Rookie mindsets to bring out optimism and passion in the work they do. Team members need to be inquisitive, utilise the knowledge of their networks, act cautiously but with speed, be hungry for results and relentless in the pursuit of new frontiers. We need to inspire our team members so they are pumped up for any opportunity, spread excitement across the business or organisation, have relentless pursuit and aren’t afraid of rejection or failure.

“As leaders we need to enable team members to use their experience to provide the business or organisation with expertise, and at the same time catalyse their Rookie mindsets to bring out optimism and passion in the work they do.”

It’s time to tap into your networks, forge new territory and generate fresh ideas. Let’s be willing to say ‘I don’t know’, ignore boundaries and ‘Bring out the Rookie‘ in you and your team members!

REFERENCES

Gordon, J., (Unknown). Think Like a Rookie. http://www.jongordon.com. link
Kelley, T., Kelley, D., (2012). Reclaim Your Creative Conscious. Harvard Business Review, Dec. 2012. link
Levitt, S.D., & Dubner, S.J., (2014). Think Like a Freak: Secrets of the Rogue Economist. Penguin, UK.
Wiseman, L., (Unknown). Rookie Smarts Research. Rookie Smarts. link
Wiseman, L., (2014). Why Your Team Needs Rookies. Harvard Business Review, Oct. 2014. link

Read More Articles

Art Of Communication – Change Series Part 4 Link
Achieving Successful Change – Changes Series Part 3 Link
Change Tantrums – Change Series Part 2 Link
Why Change? – Change Series Part 1 Link
I Make No Apologies This Is Me! Link
Leaders Are Hired To… Link

Learn More

active CEO COACHING
active CEO CORPORATE
active CEO PODCAST
Craig Johns SPEAKER
Craig Johns BLOG
Contact CRAIG JOHNS
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