Is Leadership Learned or Innate?
Before I begin, we should first look at what this question actually means...
Without getting too philosophical within the balance of nature and nurture, here I’m simply looking to explore whether the characteristics necessary to be a great leader are skills you would already have or skills you can work on.
Have the greatest leaders of our time had to work at themselves and learn how to lead or did they always know what it takes to motivate their teams to success?
So, can a great leader be developed or were they always built for leadership?
let me make one thing clear straight away…
Yes, Leadership Can Be Learned!
Leadership is something that you can work at and develop over time. Let’s take you, for example. If you are currently wondering whether or not you have the ability necessary to take your team further than you have before and drive them to more success, let me assure you, you do.
There are a number of aspects of leadership that require practice. It’s not all built around inborn personality traits. Even the best leaders you can think of didn’t have these skills honed from day one. They had to fail, fail and fail some more to find a way of working with their teams that has allowed them to discover the success they have.
They didn’t walk into their places of work on day one and turn their businesses into the giants they are today, they had to learn along the way. They needed to develop themselves and grow as a leader to find the success they have. And you are no different.
Let’s Look at Communication
If we take the example of communication, we can explore how exactly this trait exists in great leaders.
When we think about the best of the best, we’d consider them to be great communicators, right? It’s something that I talk about a lot. You need to be able to communicate your vision to your teams. If you aren’t able to get the message across in a simple, concise manner, the entire strategy, no matter how sparklingly brilliant it may seem, will be lost on your staff.
The best bit about communication? It can be learned! Communication is a skill that takes practice to perfect. While some people are nurtured from a young age to be what we would consider being great communicators, being able to speak fluently is not the same as being a great communicator.
Having ‘the gift of the gab’ doesn’t guarantee the ability to be able to communicate your vision effectively and efficiently with your team. This ability is something that you can work on and, over time, become proficient at.
What About Team Working Abilities?
Ok, so you can learn to communicate your vision - great! But, once everyone has the knowledge and training to get started, can you learn to lead them to carry that vision out?
You might be under the impression that to be able to get the most out of your team, you need some underlying ability to work effectively within a team and possess the personality traits necessary to be able to lead one. While this is somewhat true, our ability to work as part of a team is something that can also be built upon over time.
Think about sports teams. Each individual player has worked in a team environment before. They know what it’s all about and they understand what it takes to be successful - just as their coaches understand exactly what is needed to lead that team to success. Perhaps you’re asking, why then do they train as a team and implement team-building exercises?
It’s because we, as people, always have room to learn how to work as a team. While some people have an ability to bring people together and delegate instructions quickly, that doesn’t mean the rest of us can’t catch up to them if we are willing to practice and develop our own team working abilities.
Finally, Are Creativity and Innovation Innate?
We can learn how to better communicate our vision and we can develop our skills to be able to lead a team to success, but what about having the innovative ability to create that vision in the first place?
Creativity and leadership go hand in hand. A great leader is someone who can problem-solve and in order to do that a certain amount of creativity is needed.
Of all the areas I’ve explored here, the ability to be innovative and creative might seem like a step too far for typical learning. It’s something we’ve been told for years, that some people are creative and some people just aren’t. So, is this true?
In 1956, Louis R. Mobley was tasked with developing the creativity of IBM’s executives. Mobley introduced six insights:
- Traditional teaching methods don't guarantee improvements in creativity.
- Creativity about unlearning, rather than learning.
- We only learn to become creative people through action and subsequent transformative experience.
- We learn creativity from other creative people. Take note of what other creatives do and how they think.
- You must overcome your internal biases through self-knowledge.
- You must fail. You can't be afraid to fail in the pursuit of creativity. There are no wrong ideas, just ideas that move you closer to the right one.
As we can see, the traditional understanding of creativity and innovation is false. Anyone can be creative, it just needs to be worked at like any other skill.
So, while many aspects of great leadership can be learned, what can’t be taught to you is a willingness to adapt and develop your skills. This is absolutely necessary if you want to turn yourself into a great leader.
If you have a combination of an innate willingness to learn and you surround yourself with the necessary teachings and insight, you’re an unstoppable leadership force.
There’s no substitute for hard work.