How Do I Get Promoted? – Are Leaders Born or Made?


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?

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Should We Tell Employees They Are High Potential?


Does your company have a policy for identifying, informing and developing your high potential employees? Sometimes it can be as simple as a boss/manager informally mentoring one of their team members. In other situations, there can be a formal high potential leadership program the company uses to identify high potential employees and selecting them for leadership training. Either way, I think it’s more important to ask:  Is it beneficial for employees to know they have been labeled by the company as someone who has “high potential” for development and advancement?

Recently I posted this question on several Executive and HR groups on LinkedIn. The responses were varied and informative but most respondents agreed that announcing someone as high potential in a public setting was like the “kiss of death”. Nobody likes to be labeled, especially in front of other people, since it usually creates stress and difficult working relationships with those not chosen. Jealously, resentfulness and other negative behaviors can enter the picture when it’s obvious certain people were selected as high potentials while others were not.

A better way to handle high potential employees is through “intentional time”. This means a boss/manager should spend time with the high potential employee to help them further their growth and development. If the company does offer a leadership training program, be sure to include high potentials, as well as other employees who request leadership opportunities.

One consideration to keep in mind with high potentials is the importance of recognition. Regardless of whether an employee knows they are a high potential, anyone working to get promoted will want to be recognized for their efforts and hard work. If one of your high potential employees feels they aren’t receiving the proper recognition, then they will be tempted to look for a job elsewhere.

The important factor to remember is to find the balance of identifying and recognizing the efforts of those employees you want to develop into future leaders in a way that doesn’t ostracize them from the rest of the team. Most of the nurturing of high potentials can occur one-on-one and the intentional time a leader takes to grow the high potential.

What are your thoughts on the matter? Were you told you were a high potential employee? Did it change how you worked? Share your personal experience and opinion on high potentials. I look forward to hearing from you.

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