In a blog published last week in the Harvard Business Reviews Blog Network, Dr. Connson Chou Locke, a leadership researcher and assistant professor at the London School of Economics and Political Science, says to readers that it’s time that we stop asking the question of whether leaders are born or nurtured into their roles. While scientists point to characteristics and HR professionals point to training, both fail to understand complexity and context in the leadership picture:
By failing to differentiate between leadership effectiveness (performance as a leader) and leadership emergence (being tapped for a leadership role), this research is often misunderstood and misused. In fact, inborn traits are more strongly associated with leadership emergence. That is, within a group of peers, those who are more extraverted or [perceived as] more intelligent tend to have more influence on the group. Does this mean that these same people perform better than others when placed in a formal position of leadership? Not necessarily.
Perhaps unsurprisingly for someone who writes motivational pieces, I happen to fall more heavily into the leadership-as-nurture camp myself. I have seen people with great talents in supervisory roles fail when promoted to positions of greater responsibility. I’ve witnessed too great leaders flail and fall from great heights in organizational cultures that rejected their leadership style. And I’ve seen people with a modest approach to people and work nevertheless guide community groups through some of the most challenging periods in their groups’ histories (sometimes to their rightful dissolution).
In one of the comments to the article, someone wrote in, “One of my favorite quotes on leadership is that great leaders produce more leaders not more followers.” I find that inspiring too.
What traits can you nurture in yourself and others to bring forth their ability to lead?
A Listening Ear
While many imagine leaders first and foremost as persuasive speakers, even business journal Forbes proclaimed that “most leaders need to shup up and listen.” In a 2013 survey of 160 chief executive officers and directors, the number one ranked problem in leadership performance was a tie between poor mentorship and engagement skills. We want those we call our leaders to act with empathy, to share in our leadership development, and to connect with us in meaningful ways. It’s no wonder, then, that the notion of a “listening organization” has become a mark of organizational leadership.
Learn and encourage the use of the tools of active listening to better harness information, to make effective decisions, and to gain the trust and respect of your colleagues in undertaking organizational challenges.
Be Open to Order and to Change
An early and, at the time, controversial publication on the nature-versus-nuture leadership question stated that managers look to bring order complexity while leaders seek out volatile opportunities for change. It also stated that both — managing and leading — are vital and complementary skills to growth.
Be then the kind of manager that sails the shift through rough seas but does not shy away from a race. Inspire the kind of leadership that looks to challenge the status quo while nevertheless building the structures that can hold on to and maintain a successful position.
Make Yourself Sweat
American inventor and businessman Thomas Edison is quoted at the turn of the twentieth century as saying that “genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.” Those words are just as true now a century later as they were then.
Your nature is no magical pill to leadership. Just as the talented musician wakes every day to pull out her cello and bow to practice, practice, practice, so too should we — as leaders, potential leaders, and those who want to inspire leadership — see the sweat of our daily work as the hallmark of any great leader.
Do you have your own take on the nature versus nurture perspective to leadership? Share it in the comments.