This week we explore why everyone is a born leader - that we all have a head start in some facet of leadership.
Hello and welcome to episode 37 of the Leadership Today Podcast where each week we tackle one of today’s biggest leadership challenges. This week we are exploring why everyone is a born leader.
I was just about to give a presentation at a conference recently when someone said “I see you’re talking about leadership today - don’t you think leaders are born?”
My answer, having had over 20 years to research and think about it, might surprise you. The answer is yes - I do think leaders are born. But probably not in the way you expect.
When most people think about ‘born leaders’ they’re usually thinking about things like charisma, confidence, and extraversion - those up front skills that draw others in and create enthusiasm. The reality is that some people have a head start in these areas through genetics and the environment in which they grow up, so you might consider them to be born leaders. But these skills and traits are just part of effective leadership. In fact, not every great leader is charismatic, confident and extraverted. There are many different ways to be an effective leader. Research into leadership and Emotional Intelligence highlights a suite of competencies that can help people to be great leaders, each of which can be learned and developed.
I recall an interview with Daniel Goleman, whose books on Emotional Intelligence helped popularise the concept in the 1990s and beyond. Goleman was asked what he thought about Steve Jobs as a leader, and whether Jobs had great emotional intelligence. Now, this was a loaded question, particularly since Jobs had only just passed away earlier that same year. Jobs was clearly a very successful leader who transformed the way we think about technology, music distribution and even animated movies. But he was also renowned for being extremely demanding to the point of being aggressive, often belittling people in front of others. In fact, his close friend and Apple designer Jony Ive described it like this: “I once asked him why he gets so mad about stuff. He said, 'But I don't stay mad.' He has this very childish ability to get really worked up about something, and it doesn't stay with him at all. But, there are other times, I think honestly, when he's very frustrated, and his way to achieve catharsis is to hurt somebody. And I think he feels he has a liberty and licence to do that. The normal rules of social engagement, he feels, don't apply to him. Because of how very sensitive he is, he knows exactly how to efficiently and effectively hurt someone. And he does do that.” That doesn’t sound very emotionally intelligent.
But Goleman drew out Job’s vision and inspirational leadership - his ability to come up with new ways of thinking and bring people around that vision. You only have to watch the launch on the first iPhone to see these strengths in full display. Goleman also pointed out that emotional intelligence is a spectrum of abilities, and that you don’t have to be great at all of them to be great as a leader.
In fact, great leadership can be built on empathy and insight into others. Or resilience and the ability to bounce back quickly from setbacks. Or warmth and the ability to connect with others. Or analytical capacity - being able to pull things apart into their component parts. Or conceptual ability - being able to link disparate ideas into a unified whole. Once we broaden out the list of capabilities associated with success as a leader, you start to recognise that we all have a head start in at least a few areas. That we are all born leaders in our own way.
When I’m facilitating I often ask groups to repeat some statements about leadership. There’s something powerful about a group of 50 or 100 people all saying the same thing. The two statements that have the biggest impact are “Anyone can become a great leader” and “The best leader you can be is yourself.” This week I challenge you to think of yourself as a born leader, with just as much capacity and potential for great leadership as anyone else.