Leaders are Made, not Born.
“Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.” –President Eisenhower.
I use this quote quite frequently, and the key word in that definition that stands out for me is “art.” Speak to any artist how they perfected their craft, and they’ll likely tell you with practice. A painter will spend years learning how much pressure to apply to a brush, at what angle, to achieve a particular stroke on the canvas. A violinist mastering a Mozart concerto could spend hours repeating the same passage over and over until she gets the fingering just right. And a baseball pitcher will throw pitch after pitch after pitch until he can get the curveball to break precisely where and when he wants it.
(Ironically, when these artists finally reveal their works to the public, critics will often rave over the artist’s “natural-born ability” — as if hard work weren’t the biggest part of the equation.)
So it is with leadership. People are not born leaders — rather, leadership skills are developed over time, and with practice.
You could say someone who is naturally extroverted and charismatic may have a natural talent for leadership, much like an artist might have a natural talent for her craft. But it would be a mistake to undersell how much experience is required to be an effective leader, how many errors in leadership are often made and (hopefully) learned from.
With this in mind, think about the people in your own life — either through work, through your hobbies or in your own circle of family and friends — who have served in leadership roles. What traits do they all share? What do all of them have in common?
Chances are, not much.
I’ve interacted with hundreds of leaders in my work with private companies, my seven years in the U.S. Army and my involvement in community organizations. I can tell you from firsthand experience that leaders come in all shapes and sizes — men and women of varying ages, backgrounds, experiences and personalities.
While many of the leaders I’ve worked with were naturally gregarious, some of the best ones were more introverted, taking the time to think about what would really motivate and inspire the people they led.
These experiences taught me that there is no leadership gene that some people have and others don’t. Everyone has the capacity — the potential — for leadership.
The question then becomes: Do you choose to become a leader?