I have asked this question in the past and there is still much debate regarding what really makes a leader. The Center for Creative Leadership, a research firm, surveyed top leaders globally and found that 52.4% believed leaders were made, 19.1% believed leaders were born, and the remaining 28.5 % believed it to be a combination of factors – that leaders may have some intrinsic skills but have also worked hard to gain valuable experiences, perspective, and knowledge to maximize their success.
I believe it is a combination of factors and that intrinsic skills play some part in success as a top executive. However, the majority of success is derived from work experiences, training, mentoring, and development. In my experiences as a leadership coach and developer of talent for 30+ years, there are some foundation traits leaders must possess to be made into great leaders.
Leaders have to possess at least an average level of intelligence. If a leader is very intelligent he/she may possess stronger analytical abilities and utilize development experiences and training faster than someone who is of average intelligence.
This trait helps accelerate a leader’s development when they are constantly seeking to further their careers. It is still possible to become a top leader without much ambition because other skills they possess helped them move up the career ladder such as technical abilities, relationships, and being in the right place at the right time.
In organizations today the responsibility for development has been delegated to the leader. The manager is responsible for providing resources and coaching, and developing their successor. However, many managers do not prepare development plans for their team members. And, if you are at the VP level now, it is my experience that most development stops at your level. There is a big assumption that you should know what you’re supposed to do and there is little need to make investments in your leadership development. That is, unless you ask for the resources and funds to further your own career.
It helps a lot if you are outgoing and like to work around people. However, I have worked for and with many senior leaders who were introverts. They developed the necessary behaviors to exhibit leadership and achieve results while many of their stakeholders had no idea they were introverted.
Courage is helpful because you will need to develop and display behaviors that may have not been required in the past. I have coached many leaders who succeeded because they were courageous and tried to lead differently than what had made them successful in the past. This is important as you need to develop your leadership as you rise in the organization to senior roles.
You get noticed when you can meet and exceed expectations. If you are not able to exceed performance expectations it will take you longer to build credibility and trust that you would be able to drive performance at the VP+ level.
So what’s your opinion? Are leaders born or made, or do you believe it’s a combination of factors? What other skills or traits form the foundation for leaders at your organization?