Some years ago I joined the management team of a new division that had been created in the company I worked in at that time. The head of that division gathered his new management team for our first off-site meeting so that we could “team build”. Our new boss opened this meeting by saying that he had hand picked each one of us because during our working lives we had developed into good leaders. He then continued by saying that he had be born to be a leader. He explained how it had been apparent to everyone as a child on the school playground that he was a born leader. We listened to a number of stories from throughout his life that exemplified his exceptional leadership. We were to understand that although we were all good leaders, he was a “born” leader (apparently in his mind equal to “great” leader”).
I won’t comment on whether or not my old boss was born with, or ever developed any leadership qualities. One thing he did, however, seem to have been born without was good common sense. This weakness seems to afflict many top managers and politicians. I am never really surprised that people get crazy thoughts in their heads. I know I often have absolutely ridiculous nonsense gallivanting around the corridors of my mind. What surprises me is that many people lack the judgment to keep these absurd notions for themselves! If my boss really believed he was the greatest thing to happen to leadership since Napoleon you would have thought he would also have realized that this revelation would sound a bit farfetched for his employees who were only moderately gifted.
This blog entry skirts the issue of whether or not leaders are born or created. It is highly likely that some people may be born with more of certain qualities that give them a head start at becoming a good leader but there seems to be very little agreement in management literature about what these qualities are. In fact about the only thing that everyone seems to agree on is that there are many different successful leadership styles. Another factor that seems to be common in all successful leadership styles is empathy. The ability to understand the wants and desires of others seems to be a success factor for all types of leaders including those who use their leadership solely for their own benefit and the oppression of others. Machiavellistic leaders as well as altruistic leaders have great advantage of a highly developed empathy.
The short of it is that no one really knows how great leaders are made. We know only slightly more about what traits are characteristic of great leaders. My suggestion is that if little voices in your head are telling you that you were born to lead, ignore them!