Leadership: Born or Acquired?

Are People Born With Leadership Skills or Do They Acquire Them?

The question as to whether certain people are born with leadership skills or whether they acquire those skills through conscious efforts has been an age old question. Various theories have been propounded over the years in order to pin down the main source of leadership traits in the persona of people in general. How far those theories have succeeded in determining that source is still everyone’s guess.

Simply put, leadership may be described as one’s ability to organise a group of people to achieve a common goal. For example, in keeping with his vision in a commercial business organisation, a good leader would be able to organise and motivate his or her staff to have greater productivity in order to minimise costs of production, or in order to enhance sales. Another example may come from the political arena. A good political leader would be able to organise his or her party in such a way that would lead to total commitment of the membership for the policies and programmes of the party. These examples, although diverse, assist in elucidating the point that the need for good leadership is a common factor among all organisations.

As early as the 1840’s there was the general thought that it was only men who had the capacity to be good leaders. This thought came about as a consequence of the many wars which were fought around that period with men always leading the fray. It was the general thinking then that great leaders were born and not made. Those theories were all bunched into one grouping called “the Great Man Theory”. Over the years however, up to the 1950s other theories came into being which entertained the thought that with the right conditioning, good leaders are not necessarily born with leadership skills but may acquire them. These theories are referred to as “behavioural theories”. They focused on behaviour patterns rather than on mental, physical and social characteristics.

Since then, other theories were studied and analysed especially in the 1960s and 1970s including, “contingency theories” which based leadership styles on particular situations, “transactional theories” based on reactions to rewards and punishment; “transformational theories” which rely heavily on trust and a sense of belonging amongst followers.

Despite all of these theoretical approaches to understanding the reasons for making leaders tick, the modern day approach considers that leaders do not necessarily have to be born with leadership skills to become good leaders. It is the present view that good quality leadership skills may be acquired by the conscious efforts of individuals to develop those particular skills. Participation in conferences, seminars, workshops and other fora are good avenues for nurturing and enhancing them.

It has been generally analysed that there are ten main ingredients which enable a disciplined individual to become good leaders. A good leader must train himself or herself to dream as to where he or she wants to take an organisation. In other words, there must be a vision with a clear target in mind. For example, the vision may be to double annual sales or to win the next general elections. There must be integrity, that is, having a deep conviction that the vision is right. There must be adequate communication between the leader and the followers as it is most important that the followers know what the vision is and the means to be used to achieve it. In so doing, the relationship, between leader and followers must inculcate a high level of trust with the leader being able to use persuasion to influence followers.

A good leader must be prepared to have adaptability, as he or she may have to make changes to plans as a result of a change in circumstances. There must be appropriate merging of various roles in order to maximise on teamwork.  Where appropriate, coaching and development for followers must be continuously organised. Decision-making must be firm; there ought not to be much room for prevarications as this may lead to lack of confidence amongst followers. Planning is a most important ingredient for a good leader. He or she must have the ability to make appropriate assumptions about the future. If this is not taken into consideration, the original vision of the leader may eventually founder.

It must be borne in mind that leadership does not only refer to the man at the top, but also to various individuals within organisations. Everyone therefore could have key roles to play for the development of their respective organisations if they make conscious efforts to develop their own leadership skills.

by Dr. Lawrence A. Joseph

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