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Kelly Odell

- A blog for leaders
12 Jun 2006

Born to Lead or Bats in the Belfry

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!

3 Responses

  1. I work a lot with leadership in animals. A popular belief is that in dog packs there can only be one Alpha leader and the alpha leader is quick to show no mercy. If I had applied this to my dog – a spirited intelligent pit bull mix – I could definitely have gotten an obedient dog whose spirit had been broken. This more or less destroys all initiative in the animal, probably also man. Dont forget that we are not very far removed from our predatory instincts! So here are a few leadership learnings that could perhaps apply equal well to humans:
    – Protect your pack
    – Never bite when a growl will do
    – Don’t fawn
    – Play and have fun

  2. Great post! I worked with so many “leaders” in my past and I can really identify with the thoughts. As a matter of fact, all of my CEOs were “naturally born leaders” and all of them attributed “vision” to absurd decisions, specifically such that threatened to take the whole company diving into the ground.

    I don’t think “leadership” is self acclaimed. You are a leader if others follow you. You are a “real leader” if those who follow you do not regret having done that. To me it’s that simple.

  3. To be fair, I think leadership positions are the most ungreatful. These are people that are supposed to lead people often just as smart, through challenges only they see the full picture of, against most adds, whith decisions under the microscope – all while baring sole and full responsibility. This is a recurring situation that clouds anyone’s judgment. Plus, at times of uncertainty / crisis everyone “knows” what the leader is doing “wrong”.

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