Are Great Leaders Born Great?

Ana Dutra-0680_v2_PATHgreyscale“If you ever find yourself sitting in a park or a playground where you can observe young children in action, focus on their behaviors and try to imagine what kind of leaders they will be or, even better, relate what you see in the children’s behaviors to the executives and leaders you know and deal with. As I did this exercise time-and-time again, when I watched my children and their play-mates on weekends, I could clearly see the “empathetic,” the “tyrants,” the “task oriented,” the “no-tolerance for ambiguity” and the “high confidence” leaders in the making, as these children were experiencing their first team interactions. I could also see extreme behaviors being called and reprehended by peers, parents or supervisors in the scene. Some responded to the negative feedback to their not-so-popular or inappropriate behaviors and some didn’t, essentially ignoring the feedback or responding with a tantrum. Those who continued to behave inappropriately typically continued to receive negative responses and feedback. But, they didn’t change or adapt… I always wondered whether they couldn’t change their ways or just didn’t care to.

Fast forward a few years and change the scene from the playground to the corporate offices. As I thought back to what I experienced with multiple executives and leaders, the resemblance to the playground set-up was stunning. Does that sound similar to the corporate environments you know? I am sure the answer is “yes.” Does that mean that leadership can’t be developed, people simply “are who they are?” The answer is “absolutely not.” My observation of children-at-play confirmed that people may be wired a certain way, but what will really make the difference between those who create followership, inspire others and ultimately perform at the highest levels, is their ability to understand who they are, understand how their style and behaviors impact people, organizations and business performance and, most important, their willingness to figure out how to develop the mission critical competencies that will get out of their leadershiT-land and enable them to rise to the top as outstanding leaders.

At the end of the day, self-awareness and awareness of others, of the changes in the business environment and of the resources available (or not) to solve problems, create change and drive results are the factors that will distinguish leadershiT from true leadership. The continuous pursuit of understanding how others experience our behaviors and react to us increases our awareness of who we are as leaders and how far apart we are from the leaders we truly want to be. Great leaders were not born great. Like everything else in life, achieving a “great leader” status takes a lot of effort and hard work. It also takes a true desire to change. So, have you ever stopped to think which kind of leader you are versus what kind of leader you would really like to be? How do you play in your organization’s playground?”