What do Jack Ma (Alibaba), Jeff Bezos (Amazon), Lebron James (Cleveland Cavaliers) and Angela Merkel (German Chancellor) have in common? They are all great leaders and ranked in the Fortune Top 50 World’s Greatest Leaders 2017
. Were they born leaders or did they learn their excellent leadership skills along the way? During the last 13 years, I’ve worked with top corporate executives, built companies, interviewed hundreds of people and have seen employees transform into great leaders. Whenever I interview people, the first thing I ask myself is if I think this person has the potential to be a great leader. Don’t get me wrong, I not necessarily question if they have the potential to become a manager within the company. But I always look for a certain mindset and passion that drives people to be the best they can be in their field.
Nature or Nurture?
Some experts say leaders are born, and others say leadership is a matter of training. Actually, both camps are correct. Research has found that leaders come by their talents partly through genetics but mostly through hard work and persistence. Looking at a study that has been performed by The Leadership Quarterly
on the skill set and human development within leadership, the results show that 24% is genetic and 76% is learned along the way:
…“We have identified a genotype, called rs4950, which appears to be associated with the passing of leadership ability down through generations,” said lead author Dr Jan-Emmanuel De Neve (UCL School of Public Policy). “The conventional wisdom that leadership is a skill remains largely true, but we show it is also, in part, a genetic trait…”
This research compared genetic samples of approximately 4,000 individuals with information about jobs and relationships and found that there was a significant correlation between rs4950 and leadership. Leadership behaviour was measured by determining whether or not individuals occupy supervisory roles in the workplace. This research shows that there is some correlation between genetics and leadership, but that leadership predominantly is a skill that can be trained and developed.
It Starts With You
I often have discussions about the fact that not everyone has the capacity to be a good manager. I totally agree with this. At the same time, I do believe leadership has not too much to do with titles. The leadership discussion begins within, it starts with you.
“Leadership has nothing to do with the title on your business card or the size of your office. It’s not about how much money you make or the clothes you wear. It’s is a philosophy. It’s an attitude. It’s a state of mind. And it’s available to each one of us.” – Robin Sharma
Leadership is about mindset and I truly believe that leadership is something that can be taught and cultivated and is within reach of everyone no matter what background or title you carry. If you look at the most impactful leaders around the world, most of them have been self-selected and self-made. They share an active curiosity, intelligence and the ability to learn from experience. They are people that are extremely self-aware and understand how to dream, empower others and make it happen.
According to DDI’s Global Leadership Forecast 2011
the difference between the impact of a top-performing leader and an average leader is at least 50%. It also shows that organisations with top quality leaders were 1300% more likely to outperform the competition in financial performance, product quality, employee engagement and customer satisfaction. Building good leaders throughout the organisation impacts your top and bottom line.
3 Ways To Build Great Leaders
For any organisation, the challenge is to cultivate top leadership for the future. To build the new generation of leaders, companies should focus on:
Start looking within: Self-awareness. Understanding yourself. Should companies be helping future leaders understand their strengths and weaknesses? What vision do they have for their life? Help them discover what is unique about them. Having a clear view of your passions, interests and skills. Self-awareness is the most important leadership exercise and prepares for great leadership. Some questions to ask:
- Do you understand and leverage your strengths and weaknesses as a leader?
- How does your leadership impact, other people?
- What is something you truly care about?
- Are your values aligned with your actions?
Keep learning: Leadership is a mindset of constant progression, improvement and learning. This means leaders should be constantly educated and trained with assignments that will stretch their capacity, self-awareness and leadership training.
Listen more: So many title-leaders think that the higher the title on their name card, the louder they can scream and less they need to listen. This is one of the worst things leaders can do. If you can learn to listen fully, you will find that everyone around you is continually giving clues about what is really going on.
360 Feedback Loop: It’s never about the message, it’s about how you make people feel. The best way to see and improve leadership is to introduce a 360 degrees feedback loop. This way leaders can be objectively analysed on how they communicate, operate, manage and how they make other people feel.
The idea that leaders are born is holding back so many potentially great leaders. It’s a destructive mindset that limits potential. When you believe leadership is the result of your genetics, you’re much less likely to take initiative or focus on personal development. The true leadership challenge might be why only a few of us take time to understand ourselves. It might be why only a few are committed to expressing our unique gifts and talents. Leadership is not something you’re born with or get inherited. Leaders are made when they connect their purpose, unique strengths with a deep passion to make a difference in the world.
Instead of asking “If leaders are born or made”, the real question might be “How well do I know myself and what message do I want to give the world?”