"Well, he had every advantage. No wonder he ended up CEO" is a complaint I hear often in my leadership training seminars. "I wasn't born a leader, so this is just a waste of my time."
Really? You think there are born leaders? You don't think it takes hard work and learning? You don't think anyone can become a better leader? Allow me to put that assumption to the test.
Can you tell me how successful these people were destined to be, or maybe even their identities based on these summaries of their childhood/young adulthood ?
1. She was born into poverty in rural Mississippi to a teenage single mother and later raised in an inner-city Milwaukee neighborhood. She experienced considerable hardship during her childhood, claiming to be raped at age 9 and becoming pregnant at 14; her son died in infancy.
2. His parents separated and divorced when he was only 3. His father saw him only once after moving. His mother remarried a student and moved him to a foreign country for four years. He returned to America and lived with his grandparents. After college graduation he worked for a nonprofit church organization for several years. His mother did not return to America for two decades until one year before her death.
3. He was born to a Syrian graduate student and an American graduate student who gave him up for adoption. He was adopted by an American couple and eventually graduated high school. After dropping out of college after only one semester he slept on friends' floors, returned Coke bottles for food money, and got weekly free meals at the local Hare Krishna temple.
Stumped? Don't worry. Very few people get all three or even one correct. (Answers are at the bottom.) But they are all famous and successful leaders.
Leadership isn't something that gets passed through the genes. History is littered with the sons and daughters of great leaders who didn't "measure up." True, some personality traits are inherited. But these behavioral tendencies might be helpful in some leadership situations but disastrous in others.
Leaders are made, not born.
So, how do people become great leaders? More importantly, how do you become a better leader? Unfortunately, this is not a question that can be answered in a few hundred words, but here are the highlights.
First, recognize that leadership is a skill and, like all skills, you can improve it. But it takes practice.
Secondly, leadership development may require a coach. Just like athletics, art and every other skill, leadership ability needs feedback. Coaches can provide that, plus be an accountability partner; someone who holds your feet to the fire when you're weary or ready to quit.
Thirdly, study yourself. Ultimately, great leadership requires the best from you and, in the end, only you will know how best to manage, inspire and work with you and your specific capacities, desires and experiences.
Strong, recognizable leadership is the outcome of a process. Not a raw material that goes in at the beginning. Start your own leadership training by reading, going to seminars and training, and finding a mentor/coach. And always remember: Great leaders are made, not born.
Answers: 1. Oprah Winfrey, 2. Barack Obama, 3. Steve Jobs