A few years ago, I asked a group of managers what it takes to become a leader. Their director (who had stopped in “just to observe”) raised his hand in the back of the room and said, “You’re either born to lead or you’re not. You can’t teach someone how to lead.”
I was standing in front of the people who reported to him, each of them with teams of their own. The crestfallen looks on their faces were heartbreaking. I imagined them sitting there, each thinking to himself, “I wonder how he sees me? I wonder if he thinks I was born to lead?” Their director was wrong, of course, and I proceeded to tell him so without actually telling him so. He didn’t observe much longer and excused himself.
Unfortunately, there are a number of people who believe that leaders are born and not made, and that is simply not true. Our ability to lead has little to do with genetics and far more to do with our ability to influence. Are there certain traits that people possess allowing various leadership skills to come more naturally to them? Absolutely! For example, extroverts can often be more open and receptive to the idea of speaking or presenting to a group of people than introverts. Both personality types can be incredible speakers and presenters, but the personality traits of extroverts lend itself to that skill. And yes, personality traits are largely determined by our genetics.(1)
But just because someone is genetically predisposed to certain traits or characteristics that facilitate the relatively rapid acquisition of leadership skills does not mean that person is destined to lead. As physician Gabor Mate notes, “Genes can predispose, but they do not predetermine.”(2) We are not born to lead any more than we are born to follow. Anyone can acquire the skills necessary to be an effective leader, and anyone can lead if they so choose (although not everyone will and that’s a good thing). So, if you aspire to lead others, but the story you’re telling yourself is, “That’s just not me. I’m not wired like that,” you are actually correct; NOBODY is wired like that. You learn to lead.
The key to our success as a leader lies in our ability to connect with and influence others, not our genetic makeup. We do that most effectively by learning how to become the best version of ourselves. To be the best version of ourselves, we need to know who we are, and that requires us to look within. That can be hard for us because when we do, the first thing we usually see are our demons, and that stops some of us cold. But learning to lead is a process, one that begins and ends within us, so that is where we must start. The rest is simply learning tools and tactics that help us strengthen our connections with others and increase our ability to influence, which any of us can do. We aren’t born leaders, we become them, through evolution, connection, and growth.
(1) Granneman, Jennifer. “Why Introverts and Extroverts Are Different: The Science.” Children’s Quiet Revolution, 2021, https://www.quietrev.com/why-introverts-and-extroverts-are-different-the-science/.
(2) Mate M.D., Gabor. “The Trouble With Our DNA Rat Race.” Dr. Gabor Mate, 2021, https://drgabormate.com/trouble-dna-rat-race/.
(3) Sukl, Kayt. “In Sync: How Humans are Hard-Wired for Social Relationships.” Dana Foundation, November 13, 2019, https:// https://dana.org/article/in-sync-how-humans-are-hard-wired-for-social-relationships/.