Nurture, not nature, is the key to leadership

Opinion

Nurture, not nature, is the key to leadership



David Taylor

Inside track

Many people believe that leaders are born, and not made. Presumably new-born leaders behave in a different way from other babies. It is almost worth a trip to the maternity unit of the local hospital to check this out.

In reality, this belief is more often than not an excuse to justify a lack of leadership behaviour in themselves. Of course, we can all learn to be leaders, we can change our beliefs, our behaviours and our personalities.

If we could not, our attitudes would be the same when we are 20, 40 and 60.

There are no 'born' leaders. Such a notion is illogical, depressing and seriously limiting to every human being. The idea suggests that the moment babies are born they either have the genetics to be a leader, or they do not have those genetics.

This argument would be fine if the definition of leadership, and leaders, had been constant for the past 50 years, but it is not. Indeed, Adrian Gilpin of the Institute of Human Development has concluded that more has been discovered about leadership and human behaviour in the last 20 years than in the previous thousand.

Furthermore, the 'born' argument does not take into account the effect that experience and learning have on our personalities, on our behaviours and on our inner selves.

Leadership is a skill and a habit. Like most skills and habits, it is one that improves with practice. As we become more skilled - and the habit takes over - we worry less about the mechanics of doing it and focus more on the outcomes we achieve.

And so it is with personality. Much of personality is a set of responses that have become habits. Often these were developed with little forethought or awareness in school or at home.

Presented with a challenge we try a response, if it works we remember it and use it again. If it works often enough, we use it without too much thought and it becomes a habit. Take any set of habits, mix and stir, and we create a unique approach to life.

But like any habit, we can choose to change. Many long-lasting negative behaviours can be altered. Anthony Robbins, one of the leading motivational exponents in the world, regularly demonstrates that our behaviours, beliefs and habits can be changed totally in the matter of one moment.

Being human is wonderful. We can learn new ways and new skills, and ignore old habits. By taking the time to make better choices, these behaviours will becomenew habits for us.

One word of caution: many people will tell us that changing in this way is hard, requires struggle and is fraught with failure. We must be gentle with these people, reminding them that none of us are the same people we were last year and won't be the same this time next year.

My genuine belief and advice is this - every individual, team and organisation should strive to be all that they can be.

To do this, you will have to be outstanding leaders, and provided you are ready for the challenge, you too can be all that you can be.

David Taylor's Inside Track. A provocative insight into the world of IT in business, is out now. The book is the latest in the Computer Weekly Professional Series, published by ButterworthHeinemann: 01865-888180

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This was first published in July 2000

 

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