Leaders Are Born — Not Bred

There’s a lot of chatter in the blogosphere about leadership, attributes of great leaders, hints and tips on sharpening your leadership skills, what business schools produce the most successful CEOs, workshops abound to coach and guide you through the abyss of leadership ambiguity, etc.  It’s both endless and overwhelming, but necessary to keep the conversation going.

Whenever we go into a company to turnaround struggling initiatives and operating units, the first order of business is to evaluate the leadership ranks and the cultures they’ve created, as well as assess the level of impact on the human element side of the business.  This initial assessment helps us to identify and understand how and where the cultural mores influence behaviors, which are inescapably linked to the business results.

We then take those findings into account during the financial and operational review which includes getting the perspective of everyone in the business — from all of those in current leadership roles, as well as employees, suppliers, vendors, and even customers.  Without fail, the greatest value comes from the conversations we have with the employees.

Employees talk a different language as they hold onto the “organizational elephant” in an entirely different place than those in leadership positions.  They expect their leaders to operate from a place of honor and integrity, and shine a light on the path that leads both the business and those getting the work done — to great success.

What those in leadership positions need to keep in mind is that — whoever touches the product or service before it reaches the customer or has direct contact with the customer, is the most important person in the process.  Whenever leaders view themselves, and are themselves viewed as suppliers to their people, rather than the “boss” of them, the whole leadership dynamic changes.

“Promotion by Entitlement” is still a malady and common disease, which remains untreatable by many organizations large and small who have really yet to define it in terms of what leadership should look like for their cultures, customers and workforce.  Leadership is about relationships and is an ethical, moral and skillful position you must earn.

For those of us in the Human Capital game, we know all too well that “good producers don’t necessarily or automatically make good leaders.  Because there is a tendency to wait for “natural” leaders to emerge from wherever they come from, there is very little time and even fewer resources dedicated to actually preparing potential leaders for positions before they are needed.

The best advice we can offer is — every potential leader should resist being influenced by “Politically Correct” training, books and mentors.  From a leadership standpoint, the biggest challenges will come from “Politically Incorrect” people.  Simply put, folks don’t need a lot of new skills or fancy workshops to remind them about the attributes of a true leader.

If you lead people for your benefit, and not theirs — the messages contained within will call you to task. If you are an experienced manager, “rediscover” the passion of leadership.  If you are a newly minted manager or supervisor, listen to your people and the voices of those who have led before you.  Don’t get so involved in the mundane tasks of management that you forget the spiritual aspects of leadership.

Leaders care not only about WHAT is done, but HOW it is done by others.  If you think you’re the leader, look back once in a while to see if anyone is following you.  Are people going through walls for their leaders, or are managers pushing their people through walls?

Leadership Coaching Hints…

  • Have a clear vision of what you want to look like as a leader
  • Natural leaders are mission specific and show initiative
  • Think like a behavioral scientist
  • Benchmark against recognized leaders
  • Don’t ask questions if you do nothing with the answers
  • You got to give loyalty to get it
  • In leadership, it’s better to be approximately right than precisely wrong

For More Information about the Authors                   

www.linkedin.com/in/rhondalfrithlyons/   and     www.linkedin.com/pub/tom-fehlman/11/6b2/528






One thought on “Leaders Are Born — Not Bred

  1. A nice piece! Good job, Rhonda and Tom. I’m particularly curious about the title (i.e., that “leaders are born — not bred”). On the surface, the statement sounds like the beginnings of a counter argument to the old-school, Warren Bennis philosophy (i.e., “On Becoming a Leader”). He states the opposite (leaders are made, not born). But upon reading the blog, your use of the word “born” is more synonymous with “sparked” or “awoken”, especially when you say that “Leadership is about relationships and is an ethical, moral and skillful position you must earn.” It reminds me of Bennis’s point that leaders are the product of struggle and hardship, and the self-discovery that comes from it (along with the moral and ethical compass that is developed through such experiences). I especially liked your point about the flawed view that leaders can be manufactured by HR-sponsored leadership workshops, a stack of mind-numbing leadership books, or just putting in time. It reinforces the message that leaders require so much more inner fire — something that cannot be taught.

    Can’t wait to read the next post!


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