Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Are leaders "born" or "developed"?

This question was asked on a LinkedIn post on ASTD. Here's my response:

You can’t teach fish to fly. Once a person is a working adult, their hard wiring is set. Unfortunately, too many organizations try to “train” people to lead. Even those with an MBA from the finest schools may or may not possess leadership traits.

In our assessments, one of the base line scales we measure is “Leadership Energy.” This is the first hurdle in identifying leadership capability. In order to have a pulse in leadership, one needs to score from the mid-range to a high score.

Jared Sandberg, a columnist for the Wall Street Journal, took our assessments and had a coaching feedback session. For his article research, he took two other companies assessments and had feedback. Both of the other companies told him he had leadership potential or capability – it just needed to be developed. Mr. Sandberg reported in the article, I put it to him gently – telling him that he had none. He then self reported scoring only 6% (out of 100%) on Leadership Energy. He commented that he thought I was right because his dog wouldn’t even listen to him. Mr. Sandberg is a highly accomplished investigative journalist – and that is his best-fit calling. (Article: “How I Survived the Tests That Introduced Me to My Inner Executive,” WSJ, March 10, 2004)

So, while individuals have certain predispositions and temperaments at birth, their personalities evolve from infancy through early adulthood. The key for training professionals is to measure or identify the individual capability, strengths, risks and motivation and then develop accordingly. Too many organizations never accurately measure ones' personality traits and waste millions of dollars annually trying to develop the wrong things or by just throwing generic training out there – hoping something will stick. Again, you can’t teach fish to fly but you can help people to soar when you honor and help them develop according to their inherent strengths and gifts.


(copies of the WSJ article are available on request.)

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