Friday, August 1, 2014

Are leaders born or made?

This question has its roots in the nature / nurture argument, and is probably as old as the argument itself. Numerous studies and researchers have thrown light on it, but the truth is not as simple as an equation, as we logical human beings would love to have.

Imagine having an equation like 0.3 genes + 0.5 environment+ 0.2 life situations = Leadership

Wow! That would be the magic sauce for leadership. Since so much has been written on how leaders are developed, I thought there’s no harm if I add my two cents to it. So, here is my perspective.

Are leaders born or made? Let us examine this debate a little more deeply. If we assume that leaders are born – that leadership is all about what one is gifted with as inborn talents and native abilities, we are treading the path of the deterministic theory. This theory says that there is not much in an individual’s control, s/he is programmed according to his genes, and will therefore behave as his genes direct him. In my view, this theory devalues the role of a unique endowment called “free will” – which is the ability to choose our response to what happens to us. This is the ability that helps us make lemonade when life throws a lemon at us. Capable leaders choose to respond in a certain way when life throws a challenge at them. In doing so, they further their own development as a leader. To that extent, leaders are “made”.

Now, let us stretch this argument to the other extreme, and say that it is all about the environment the leader is brought up in, and it has nothing to do with his DNA / genes. This argument denounces the role of the Supreme Intelligence, the intelligence which decides the formation of the planets around the sun. It is this intelligence which decides that one child is born in famine stricken Ethiopia, and another is born with a silver spoon in his mouth.

I believe in the “Genius of the AND” (I picked up this beautiful phrase from Jim Collins book “Built to Last). Leaders are born AND made. It is a unique combination of innate talents, life circumstances and their responses to life’s challenges that makes a leader. So, it’s no longer about nature or nurture. It is about nature AND nurture.

Given this understanding of leadership development, what is the role of the leadership development expert. I believe the role is that of a diamond cutter. A diamond cutter does not create a diamond, but he can cut the edges fine, and polish it so that it sparkles from every angle – fully, completely – as much as it was meant to!

Here are a few sentences I like to remind participants whenever I conduct a leadership development workshop :

You are Blessed

The Supreme Master blesses with the mettle to lead mankind,
Only His hand creates the diamond that can mesmerize the mind,
We, mere mortals, can just make this diamond dazzle more bright,
And, with it, adorn crowns that promise to lead humanity towards light.