Is Leadership Born or Built?

VIEW OF B lue Ridge MountainsThis is the title of a recent article in the Washington Post by James Clawson.

He shared these opinions around this question of leadership:



Nigel Nicholson author of Executive’s Instinct suspects there may be ‘a leadership gene,’ that some people are simply born to ‘be in charge.’

Noel Tichy author of The Leadership Engine from the University of Michigan says leadership style and ability emerge from experience.

An unnamed former corporate executive says leadership is irrelevant.  A company’s performance is all about the proper employment contracts.

Despite these opinions, Clawson believes leadership can be taught.  He says leadership is about managing energy, first within yourself and then within others.  He says this implies a leader is deeply committed to an outcome that others can engage in, understand, and share—beyond just making money.

“Deep commitment implies clarity of vision,” and he believes this is precisely what many leaders are missing.  No one denies making money is important, but when it is the primary driver, clarity gets lost.

Clawson describes type 1 leaders who are pretty much out to make themselves wealthy and type 2 leaders who ‘in it for what they want to build’ – that is the vision they want to bring into the world.  Type 2 leaders are more rare he says, and more in demand.

I am just finishing Walter Isaacson’s biography about Steve Jobs. In the book, it is interesting that Jobs describes Microsoft as primarily being interested in business transactions (making money), not in making really great products.

Steve Jobs was dedicated to changing the world with the best designed computer products possible.  He was unwavering in this vision.   Still today, with Steve Jobs having died 2 years ago, Microsoft cannot keep up with Apple products and Apple’s vision and products have made it the most valuable brand in the world.

Clawson implores leaders to find their vision before they die and find it for their organizations as well.  Clearly, then, he believes leadership can be built.

I believe having a vision is an incredibly important place to begin but it is not enough.

Following the edict that leadership can be built, a large portion of my work in 2014 will focus on Training the Mind for Leadership, for myself and my clients.

When they hear that, many people think I mean training people to lead other people toward specific goals.  Yes, you will become more skilled in leading a team, but that is not the main point of training the mind for leadership.  And becoming aware of and committing to an important vision is critical, but that is not the only focus either.

Training the mind for leadership is about training your mind to lead you toward and through the natural unfolding of your vision and its manifestation in the world.  How do you train mind to do this?  There is a specific well tested path within Skillful Means.

From reading Jobs’ biography, it sounds as if he suffered tremendously bringing his vision into the world, perhaps unnecessarily.

From a Skillful Means perspective, the unfolding of your vision, what you came into the world to do, is a very natural process, but often we get distracted and pulled away from this natural process or path.  We each have so many patterns and habits that interrupt it and these interruptions are stressful, even painful as they knock us off this natural path.

Whether you are destined to be the best office manager, the best sole proprietor or the best corporate CEO, there is a path each of us longs for deep inside.  Whether you are conscious of this longing or too confused to notice, it is stressful to be out of alignment with it.  It gets reflected in confusion, poor communication, a lot of unnecessary tension working with others, difficulty meeting goals, but most of all as frustration.

Where do you begin to get back on the path?  Start by realizing you are not your thoughts.  You are not your stress.  You are not your difficulties.  They are mostly distractions (not all thoughts, but many). You need time and space to see this clearly.  When you are ‘in them,’ it is very difficult to see what is really happening.

The Path of the Stress-Free Leader is an opportunity to take the time and space to see more clearly what is happening and to transform the stress you  encounter on a daily basis.  It is an opportunity to begin to train your mind for leadership.

Beginning in January, this  four-week online introductory course is available with a coaching component.  If you are open to new possibilities and finding your natural path, to become a leader of your own mind (and business or organization), then join us in January as we begin training the mind together.  Click here to learn more details and register.  After January 6th, this opportunity will be gone.

Please share below your thoughts – How do you define leadership? Is it born or built? How do you develop leadership in yourself and encourage it in others? 

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