#539  Innovative Leader Volume 10, Number 10          October 2001

Leaders Are Not Born Leaders

by Danny Cox

Mr. Cox, a professional speaker in Tustin, California (phone 800-366-3101; email Mach175@aol.com).  He is author of Leadership When The Heat's On (McGraw-Hill, New York, 1992).  

The myth of the natural-born leader would have us believe that leadership qualities are somehow bestowed at birth. Yet no doctor in a delivery room ever held up a new-born infant and exclaimed, "Well, looky here. We've got ourselves a natural born leader." The local paper doesn't report the birth of a seven pound six ounce leader yesterday at 2:30 in the afternoon. The skills of leadership can only be learned through experience, and the decision to accept the role is personal.

In an increasingly competitive world, successful businesses need leaders, not managers, to handle the heat. Even so, an individual can't anoint him/herself a leader. Leadership is an honorary degree which can be bestowed only by those who are led. Top management can't appoint leaders any more than leaders can appoint themselves. The loyalty of those to be led must be earned through successful attitudes and behavior. Those who have been assigned to lead others, but lack the skills or motivation to do so, will forever remain mere managers.

Just as leadership can't be self appointed, neither is leadership scientific. Science requires hard evidence. Scientific facts are incontestable and empirically provable. It might be argued that the results of leadership are empirically provable. However, just what exactly caused the results is
always debatable and probably involves intangibles to one degree or another.

Since leadership involves people, a certain measure of inconsistency and unpredictability must be accepted. Human nature just isn't scientific. Knowing how to tap dance in tight spots can be a life-saving leadership technique. The great leaders resemble vaudevillians more than scientists.

Effectiveness as a leader is directly proportionate to effectiveness as a human being. Above all else, a leader is responsible for getting the best performance possible out of people. Regardless of how many people are involved, the leader is ultimately responsible. Quality of leadership is not determined by the urgency of size of the task to be accomplished. Some of the greatest leaders in business spend much of their time dealing with common details. What makes these people great is how they deal with ordinary details as well as major challenges. When searching for effective leaders, follow three steps.

1. Identify those who are willing to genuinely accept the challenges and responsibilities of leadership.

2. Identify who the people to be led will respect and willingly follow. It's not a popularity contest, but a nominated leader must be able to earn their respect.

3. Assess the leader's performance in real, non-scientific terms, understanding that people are not machines. Leaders must be merchants of hope.

Many people graduate from school intending to save the world by slaying a fire-breathing dragon. Once they discover how few dragons there are to slay, they must content themselves by campaigning against an occasional lizard. Nevertheless, the great ones fight lizards with tremendous style and vigor.

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