Are leaders made or are leaders born? This is an ongoing question that often triggers interesting conversations and debate. One thing is for sure, leadership is a journey and something that is continuous process.
I personally believe leaders are “made” through learning, experiences, successes, failures and choices. You are not just “born” a leader, although personalities, temperaments, upbringing, and cultural norms all play a part in what makes you who you are.
Leaders come in all styles and approaches, and thank goodness we do not have a “cookie-cutter” leadership format that is exactly what “works” in leadership. We can and should find patterns and leadership styles to learn from and look up to yet, in the end, we have to own and develop our own leadership style.
Your leadership style is formulated through your leadership journey and everyone’s is different. Your style emerges out of a combination of your past and current experiences (both personal and professional), how your values and judgments emerge from these events and your personality.
We also know from Gallup’s research on strengths that your brain is “wired” for certain potential strengths/talents that are there from birth. The difference between becoming a poor, good or great leader is based more on how you respond and learn from your experiences, as opposed to the experiences making or breaking you as a leader.
Even though nature and your experiences have both shaped and influenced your personal leadership style, one thing I feel sure of is that you will not be successful in your leadership unless you create a purposeful plan. For anything to be consistently successful requires intent.
For example, in order to take care of your body, your home, your car, and your relationships, you must give intentional attention to the success. If you don’t, things can fall apart. Your leadership is not any different.
Great artists, athletes, parents and friendships do not just happen by chance. Great leaders do not just “fall into” their greatness. It is a planned process that they are committed to and accountable for. A person or leader may have occasional success from “being lucky”, but for sustainability, calculated goals with action and accountability have to be in place.
A powerful example of a leader who was purposeful and intentional about his leadership was our third president of the United States, Thomas Jefferson. It is said by historians that Jefferson was mindful in developing his leadership which ultimately led to his influential legacy. He did this through a careful review of his life and his career, and then selecting which contributions he deemed most important to his public service. He even went so far as to write his own epitaph: Jefferson wished to be remembered on his tombstone for three things:
- Author of the Declaration of Independence
- Author of the Virginia Statute on Religious Freedom
- Founder of the University of Virginia
Though known today, and then, for many impressive accomplishments (such as the Louisiana Purchase), Jefferson feared that any mention of his purely political career and presidency (even on popular issues) could cloud people’s views of his leadership purpose.
By listing his main achievements in the form of broad ideas and educational purposes, Jefferson hoped to shape future interpretation of his leadership in those terms, rather than in the language of political gain. Now this is a purposeful plan; although, your plan may not be this elaborate, you still need a plan.
I encourage you to become aware of whom you want to be as a leader. Identify for yourself, what is necessary to get you where you want to go. Take time to:
- Value, appreciate and understand where you have come from.
- Identify the values you lead out of and how they have come into play in your life.
- Be aware of your past and current experiences, your personality and how, combined, they influence your leadership.
- Identify what are you doing that is creating success in your leadership.
To get started for now, ask yourself the following questions:
- Where are you not getting the results you want?
- What do you need to do to bring about change?
- Who will hold you accountable for these goals?
If you get yourself out of your comfort zone, your comfort zone will start to grow.
This exercise alone is deliberate and it will help you identify how to create greater success and give purpose to your leadership. Live, behave and dress as though you are who and where you want to be.
What can you do now to live into your purposeful leadership? You will get where you want to go much faster if you set goals and live into it now. “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he”, Hebrew proverb. I have worked with leaders who have said, “When I get this promotion, I will change….” My suggestion is to make those changes now and do it with intent.
I would love to hear your feedback. What have you done to live into your leadership? What have you done to be sure your leadership is on purpose? Any other ideas or suggestions you can give are welcome!