Irene Asare on leadership from a practical lens … Are leaders born or made?


 “Good leaders are born with certain characteristics and traits however great leaders are made through their daily deliberate and relentless actions, life experiences, continuous learning and self-development practices.”– Irene Asare

Are leaders born or made? This is a question many are still scratching their heads over in search of the right answer. I am writing this article after having done some research on the topic to share with you. From my experiences, I have noticed that there are some that have a natural inclination to lead, however many us have learned to lead through our experiences.

According to a study on genetic influences on leaders, 70 percent of leadership is learnable. This implies that great leaders learn as they go. Authors including Dr. Tasha Eurich and Malcolm Gladwell have done a at explaining the behaviours and actions associated with leadership learning. According to Gladwell you will become an expert after 10,000 hours of practice.

However, a new research has shown that it is without a doubt that we all become better the more we practice but practice certainly does not result in perfection. Nor is it quantifiable, the hours it takes to become an expert at an activity or task because our ability to learn and understand vary based on inherent traits and characteristics. Let me also add that you do not have to be an expert to be a leader.

Talent versus Skill

Talent has been defined as an inborn and special ability of a person to do something. A skill could be considered as an expertise, acquired by an individual through learning. Talent is our God gifted ability, whereas skill is an ability in which you put your time and effort to develop. Abilities and expertise alone are not what make great leaders.

Leadership is exhibited through our behavior and actions. Leaders who focus on improving their good behavioural traits become result oriented, and combined with their talents and skills, are bound to be successful in developing other leaders and leading organisations. A good example of a talented leader is Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Dr. King Jr. is a classic example of a born-leader. He had a great ability to get people to work together for an achievable goal. He was a highly talented orator who could quiet crowds and calm people to be more peaceful. He generally spoke on nonviolence as the better resolution in most situations. Martin Luther King was a leader because he challenged the status quo. He had the courage and confidence to stand up for what he believed in, the rights of all people to fair and equal treatment.

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” – Martin Luther King

Leadership through circumstance

Let’s also consider the fact that leaders are not made by chance. They are born and developed by circumstance. A great example of a woman who came to a leadership role through circumstance is Yaa Asantewaa, Queen Mother of Ejisu in the Ashanti region of Ghana, West Africa. She took on the leadership role and became famous for leading the Ashanti rebellion against British colonialism, defending the Golden stool; a symbol of the Ashanti Kingdom.

Prior to that role, she was a firstborn child, which meant exhibiting a level of leadership, and throughout her life she developed her skills with the various leading positions until she became Queen mother in later years. History tells us that she was chosen by several regional Asante kings to be the war-leader of the Asante army of 5,000 people.

“Is it true that the bravery of the Ashanti is no more? I cannot believe it. It cannot be! I must say this, if you the men of Ashanti will not go forward, then we will. We the women will. I shall call upon my fellow women… We will fight till the last of us falls in the battlefields.” – Yaa Asantewaa.

Yaa Asantewaa’s act of bravery and leadership was [circumstantial, coupled with] deliberate skill and knowledge. She was self-motivated and prepared to lead a group of people with a common goal to defend the Ashanti Kingdom.

Learning to lead

Leaders can indeed be developed, and leadership can be taught and practiced. Individuals can learn the skills to be outstanding leaders through life experiences and leadership development programs. Leadership should be perceived as an apprenticeship trade. Learning to be a leader is about watching other leaders and emulating their behavior.

As they begin to go through life, potential leaders will seek out mentors to teach them how to handle situations and become great leaders. They will improve from feedback that they receive and learn by trying out new techniques and finding out what works and what doesn’t. Potential leaders learn by evaluating their own performance and recognizing that failure is only a failure if they do not learn from the experience. This is how effective leaders control their destiny. They take control of their development and use the training opportunities available to them to learn from every one of their experiences and get the job done.

Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, also called “The Iron Lady”, understood that true leadership is about authenticity and standing up for principles even in the face of strong opposition. Authentic leadership is a product of honesty. Honesty about putting the needs of others ahead of self. Honesty in communicating information, both positive and negative. She opined that: “Being a leader is like being a lady. If you have to remind people you are, you aren’t.”

Ultimately, leaders are both born and made. A lot of people naturally have some inner characteristics and predispositions that make them more likely to become good leaders. However, without hard work and deliberate honing of one’s leadership skills the natural talent and the inherent social skills are unlikely to lead to great leadership.

>>>the author is a dynamic highly effective global business executive with a strong desire for business transformation, organisational change and effectiveness. She has over 20 years’ experience in transforming performance, leadership and culture, costs and operational excellence. She is founder of the CarvinClay People Development Limited, a leadership development company that moulds professionals for the future of work. She has also founded a HR Mentorship programme, where HR professionals get rigorous mentorship to enhance their understanding of the field. Her industry knowledge spans across Oil & Gas, Telecoms, Banking, Services, Transport and Retail, in both matured and emerging markets. You can find Irene Asare on: LinkedIn @IreneAsare; Instagram @IAmIreneAsare; Twitter @IreneAsare.

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