Are leaders born or made?
Written by: Lynne Edwards
Are leaders born or made? It’s a question that continues to fascinate. Why? Because effective leadership remains vital in transforming many different situations – from the chief steward who’s run out of ways to motivate their crew to the newly-appointed CEO who needs to lead their organisation out of a deficit.
But what are the qualities that define great leadership? When I asked the leadership team at LH, I received a variety of responses. One highlighted the importance of leaders ‘serving their team’ – rather than revert to what feels familiar or comfortable to them, they’re able to flex and adapt their leadership style for the needs of each individual.
Another talked about their partner’s phenomenal energy, excellent organisational skills and consistency of care – although they head up a team of 80 people, they always take the time to remember every single birthday and deliver a card and gift in person.
One cited the iconic film figure, Maria von Trapp – a very successful, albeit less obvious example of a great leader. Given the seemingly impossible task of managing seven unruly children, it’s her sense of fun and empathy that wins their hearts and minds in the end. By focusing on their strengths she allows them to express themselves without recrimination and creates a culture where they all can thrive and succeed. And who could forget her incredible dressmaking skills!
Know thyself – personal development benefits everyone
Although the team at LH highlighted different qualities, they all agreed that it’s impossible to lead others effectively before you can lead yourself. A chief steward may have all the practical skills they need to perform their role in an exemplary way. But if they’re promoted to a senior role with only a shallow understanding of self, it’s likely they’ll struggle to lead their team effectively.
Become less reactive
An effective leader has self awareness. They’ve learnt how to manage their own feelings and emotions effectively, which is a crucial part of creating harmony within a team. A succesful leader is able to be objective about themselves when they’re under stress or in a pressurised situation. They look within for appropriate inner guidance and can steer themselves towards more positive responses – rather than reacting negatively to the same old triggers.
They understand that trust can evaporate in an instant if they lose their temper, so they don’t resort to top-down, authoritarian methods to achieve what they want. They take the time to get to know their team and build their credibility as a leader.
A flexible style
A decent leader takes the time to understand others, their different communication styles and preferences. They’re able to recognise and manage other people’s feelings and emotions. They can spot when someone needs help, whether they’re struggling with a task or simply need to express themselves, without the fear of judgement. They recognise the situations when it’s appropriate to use more autocratic leadership – for example, in emergency or dangerous situations where rapid action is critical – and when a more laisez-faire style will work.
The power of purpose
When a leader has a greater understanding of self, they can begin to align their behaviours and actions towards what they want to achieve. From this, their purpose will often naturally follow, which leads to a life that has meaning and self- fulfilment. People who live with purpose are better able to motivate themselves and inspire others, which is a wonderful foundation for effective leadership.
Be your authentic self
The traditional ‘leader’ profile is extroverted, task focused, direct and driven. This style can be effective when it’s authentic and tempered with empathy and emotional intelligence. However, there are also many leaders who fall into the introvert camp with a thinking preference, who can lead just as successfully. Leadership is about being your authentic self, but also developing enough self awareness to understand your weaknesses and address any of your own unhelpful behaviours.
Build on your natural talents
A good footballer will keep practising their skills to succeed in the game. But a truly great footballer will also work on their character. This is a trait that often marks out a future captain – they focus on bringing out the best in the team around them, not just their own achievements on the pitch.
It doesn’t matter if you’re an introvert or an extrovert, naturally gifted with people or get more of a buzz analysing data, your skills and character can be improved with the help of personal development. But as with any skill, it takes practice, the desire to change and the willingness to forgive yourself when you make mistakes.
A lifelong journey
The world, technology and environment is changing all the time, which has an inevitable impact on our people and their needs. The didactic, command and control leadership style has its place in critical conditions, but a more human-centric approach will deliver better results in the longterm. We all need to keep learning and evolving to keep up with this.
But the best leaders continue to learn anyway. They don’t ever view themselves as the finished perfect article – there will always be a new book, insight or piece of research that will ignite their curiosity or whet their appetite.
So, are leaders born or made? Well, some people may have a stronger sense of self awareness, a higher emotional intelligence, or a more innate ability to win hearts and minds. But these skills and character traits can be developed in anyone, if they have a hunger for personal development and the desire to keep improving themselves.
Take the first step on your personal development journey. Find out more about our next leadership event with the PYA – 29th April, Astilleros during the Palma Yacht Show. Participation in the 1-hour forum will be free and complimentary refreshments will be provided afterwards. Guests can join virtually or in person.
Or.. Continue to invest in your personal development. Find out more about our leadership development programme in Monaco here.