Is there such a thing as a natural born leader?

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Regardless of what position you’re currently recruiting for, every great hiring manager recognises the value of recruiting for potential.

Ideally, we are all looking to recruit tomorrow’s leaders. We want to know that the time, money and effort spent recruiting an employee today will likely result in a competent, decisive and motivated manager in the future.

It is widely known that employees who can lead generally remain with companies longer, have fewer absences, remain loyal and enjoy higher levels of morale than those without any scope for great leadership. In the years to come, developing a process to select strong leaders will be more critical than ever, due to their scarcity as a result of factors such as demographics, globalisation and underdeveloped pipelines for future company leaders.

The lack of available leaders and the ability to develop them is becoming a pressing concern worldwide. In 2015, it was listed by the Business Human Capital Challenges report as being one of the top concerns of business. A Global Workforce Leadership survey also suggested leadership is the hardest skill to find in employees.

If we look at the information above and accept recruitment and development of leaders to be a critical HR issue, we need to ask the pertinent and long-debated question of whether true leaders are born or made. How can hiring managers spot a leader? How can we encourage desirable qualities and develop promising employees into managers that will help our companies thrive and evolve in the years to come?

What are integral leadership qualities?

If hiring managers are looking for leaders during the recruitment process, it makes sense to keep an eye out for characteristics and behaviours that are generally accepted to be present in great leaders. Depending on where you look, you will find varying opinions.

The traits of a true leader are more about what they can inspire and do for others, rather than what they can do individually.

Entrepreneur has listed the three most important leadership qualities as sought by employers to be passion, communication and collaboration. In his book Leadership: Theory and Practice, Peter G. Northouse states the five major leadership traits are “intelligence, self-confidence, determination, integrity, and sociability.” Forbes has stated great leadership qualities include good communication, honesty and the ability to delegate responsibility.

It becomes clear looking at these characteristics that the traits of a true leader are more about what they can inspire and do for others, rather than what they can do individually.

Is there a leadership gene?

Many people have long since held the opinion that great leaders are born and can’t be made.

Theories such as the “Great Man theory” and “Trait Theory” would support this assertion. This school of thought suggests individuals are born with certain qualities that inherently make them better suited to leadership; those born without these qualities simply don’t have the building blocks to be truly influential. Those who support this argument point to families who have led countries, such as the Bush family.

Science has delved into this area and revealed the brains of leaders are inherently different, claiming leaders have more brain space dedicated to memory and decision making. In this sense, it can be argued certain people are ‘wired differently’, or that a leadership gene exists.

Proponents of the existence of a leadership gene assert physiological and psychological functions within a person affect both cognitive and behavioural traits, which in turn determine whether or not that individual is suited for leadership.  

Understanding the role of environment

Although science, to a certain extent, might back up the concept that leaders are born, there are many people out there who claim the opposite.

How is it possible that an individual is born with innate self-confidence? This is surely a characteristic you develop depending on your circumstances, support and family life.

Regardless of how you are born, the environment around you needs to be just right to nurture a great leader.

Those knowledgeable in areas of social psychology and social learning theory would argue that, regardless of how you are born, the environment around you needs to be just right to nurture a great leader. This would then be developed through the process of observation, practice and learning.

Leadership, in this sense, is a lifetime learning process. No leader will ever be remarkable without a high degree of passion, persistence and discipline.

Taking the raw elements and growing a leader

Given what we know about genetics, psychology and environment, it is entirely reasonable to conclude that leadership can’t really be discussed without factoring in both nature and nurture.

As one Forbes article discusses, we could look at leadership development as we would the production of a fine wine. First, we need the raw materials in the form of a good grape. Then, the real work begins. With time and effort, you nurture an inspirational leader.

Using leadership development programmes to nurture leadership

Leadership development programmes and executive coaching have long been popular choices for companies wanting to promote and encourage leadership within their employees. This has been the case for a number of reasons.

Financially, it is more economical to train existing employees than to externally recruit managers at a high level. Employers are also keen to invest in their own employees, as they are familiar with the company and its philosophy. Plus, the prospect of advancement within a company is known to increase engagement, performance and morale.

65% of all companies with leadership development programmes drive improved business results

According to one study, 65% of all companies with leadership development programmes drive improved business results, when compared to companies without a leadership development programme. The same study demonstrated 86% of companies with such a programme were able to efficiently respond to rapidly changing market conditions. Programmes do this by educating employees on leadership characteristics and styles, as well as teaching employees how to cope with stress and manage the daily challenges faced by senior managers.

Given the potential lack of quality, motivational leaders around in the near future, it is certainly a wise move to act early. Invest in your own team and help them climb to new heights, for the benefit of them and your company.

About Nick Davis

Nick Davis

Nick Davis is a Business Psychologist and Director at Davis Associates: an HR consultancy in Surrey.

By applying best practice executive assessment, coaching and leadership development Nick has helped clients across the globe achieve greater individual, team and organisational performance.

He is passionate about the beneficial qualities psychology can have within the workplace.

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