July 25, 2012 by Drew Stelljes
Guest blogger: This blog comes from Sarah Rose Dorton. Sarah is enrolled in the DC Summer Institute on Leadership and Community Engagement.
This is a question that scholars, philosophers, sociologists, entrepreneurs, young professionals, and many others have been puzzling over for centuries. In the past people have believed in theories such as The Great Man theory—that people are born with specific qualities that make them capable of being a great leader. However, more recently, theories have been emerging which support the idea that leadership is a learned skill or skill set that can be developed in individuals. If I’ve learned anything this summer it’s that it’s a little bit of both.
I don’t think that there is any question that people are born with certain traits. Myers-Briggs tests and other evaluations help calculate and label these types of predispositions. For example, I am an introvert; I was born that way and I can never learn to be an extrovert. I can develop communication skills and maybe learn how to be outgoing in certain situations, but at the end of the day I will still be an introvert. Similarly there are people who are naturally “thinkers” and there are others who are “feelers”. Some people are born predisposed to making decisions based on feelings rather than thought out plans and vice versa. These are natural tendencies wired into the core of our being. There is a wide range and people can fall on extreme ends or closer to the middle, however these types of traits typically do not change as we grow. So – does that mean that leaders are born?
No. It is important to know that we are born with certain predispositions and it is important to know and understand what these tendencies are, but none of these inherited traits are limiting to leadership. The only limits to leadership are thinking that there is only one specific type of leader and not understanding your own predispositions and strengths and how you can utilize them for your own unique leadership style. Developing skills that compliment your natural traits will allow you to grow into your own specific leadership role. It will let you know how and when to step up into positions that best suit you. By developing skills and learning about yourself, others, and social and professional situations and environments, you enable and empower yourself to be a leader.
Every person is born with the potential to lead. Not everyone is born with the necessary traits to lead the nation, a company, or even an organization, but everyone has the potential to lead in some capacity and every type of leadership is special and important. Those who go on to become great leaders are people who take the time and opportunities presented to them to understand themselves and also to understand the needs of the people they work with. Great leadership takes time to develop, but it is possible for anyone willing to put in the effort.