Are Leaders Born or Made?

by Steven Cerri on August 23, 2012

The Question: Are Leaders Born or Made?
That’s the question, isn’t it? Are leaders born that way or are they made? Does anyone ever ask, “Are managers born or made?”

Without it ever being stated explicitly, it seems that people “believe” that the question pertains to leaders but not to managers. It seems that most people are convinced that managers can be developed whereas the source of leadership is an open question.

To me, the above questions were answered long ago through my experience. And the answer is that no one is “born” to be anything. Even a child prodigy is dependent upon the environment nurturing the capability the child can express.

The neuro-surgeon is not a neuro-surgeon at birth. But experience can make him or her so. The experience that molds adult behavior can begin in infancy or anytime prior to it’s application in the environment. This process is what causes the general population to be confused as to the source of leadership. True molding of leadership behavior often occurs in the environment, in a haphazard, random experiential way, rather than in well-organized institutions of higher learning. But it does not have to be so.

Leaders of History
If we take a close historical look at leaders of the world, and we keep an open mind, we will see that leadership that might look inherent is really a function of the interaction between the capabilities of the leader and the requirements of the environment. That is, leadership “shows up” when the environment requires it to. The leader has been conditioned to move through the world in a certain way. Nothing about him or her seems exceptional, until the environment reinforces the leadership behaviors that the person exhibits. At that moment, when the person’s behaviors and the environment’s needs align, the person is anointed “A Leader”.

If we look at world leaders who have been successful leaders over time, or we look at successful, serial, entrepreneurs, we will find that leaders who are successful in a variety of environments adapt to those environments in order to be successful. Those who consistently exhibit one leadership style will only be successful in those environments that support that, specific style.

Therefore, leadership is successful, in all cases, only when the leadership style is aligned with the environment that will support that leadership style.

This applies inside organizations as well. A leader in one organization may not be a leader in another organization unless the would-be leader is willing to adapt to the specific environment they are in.

The ability to understand how to “show up” as a leader in a specific organization is what the ACE Mentoring Program is all about. It is about the question: “How do you, as an engineer, move through your organization so that you can influence and lead the organization to the extent you want to?”

You may want to become a manager in your organization. You may want to become the CEO. You may want to be an engineer throughout your career and focus on solving technical problems.

However, regardless of the level or position you aspire to in the organization, you will still (an assumption on my part) want to influence the organization. You will still want to lead in some small or large way. Leadership does not require a title… it requires a perspective, an attitude, a way of moving through the world, a way of moving in your organization.

Be well,

Steven Cerri

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