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02.04.08

Charles Handy: Are Leaders Born or Made?

Charles Handy
Charles Handy, in another thought-provoking distillation of his thoughts, Myself and Other More Important Matters, ponders the idea of getting to the bottom of who we really are and the difficulty of seeing ourselves as others see us. Throughout our lives we all play many parts and in a sense, become different people. Can we become something different from what we see ourselves as being to this point? Can we become a leader? Handy weighs in on this:
One of the debates in psychology is whether we have a core identity that is sitting there in our inner self, waiting to be revealed, or whether our identity only evolves over time. One of the perennial questions that bug organizations is a derivation of that debate – are leaders born or made? The truth, as in most things, is probably a bit of both. The battery of personality tests that purport to show whether we are introvert or extravert, whether we like structured situations or a bit of chaos, are based on the idea that our real identities are formed by early adulthood and that a good life is about finding situations that fir our characteristics. There is some intuitive truth on this….We can’t escape our genes.

On the other hand, we do develop as we learn from experience and it does feel as though we are doing more than revealing our inherited selves. We are perpetually filling out our identities which get firmer and more consistent as we age and begin to discover the spheres of life that fit us best.

Herminia Ibarra of INSEAD … argues that a successful life does not mean knowing what you want to do before you act, but the other way around. Only by acting, experimenting, questioning and acting again do you find out who and what you are. That is certainly my experience. Our identity is party inherited, partly shaped by early experiences, but it is not fully formed until we have explored more of the possibilities.
Leadership is a possibility we can all explore. It is something we can develop if we choose to. What combination of strengths and weaknesses we have to manage will of course vary from person to person, as we are all different; we are born with different genes. And this is as it should be. Leadership development is a highly personal experience that requires self-knowledge and a willingness to confront those areas where need to improve that will make us effective with people. The traits that will make you a better leader are the same traits that will give you the capacity for success in all areas of your life. Above all, our leadership is reflected in our character.

At the same time, leadership training offers the opportunity to examine our thinking in an environment where mentors are available to help us to interpret what we find and guide us to the appropriate changes we need to make in our lives. But no training will, of and by itself, make one a leader. That’s an inside job.

Posted by Michael McKinney at 08:22 AM
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Comments

I'm thinking about this issue too. Two books I've found useful are Larry Ackerman's The Identity Code and Parker Palmer's Let Your Life Speak. Thank you for bringing Charles Handy's book to my attention.

Leaders can be made. If they couldn't why would we waste our time blogging about leadership development? As a man of faith, I believe some people are given a gift in leadership (born as a leader so to speak). Spiritual leadership is different than natural leadership (I use the terms loosely because i think everything is spiritual). Are leaders born or made? The answer is yes.

James Russell Lowell said, "No man is born into the world whose work is not born with him." Yet, it is up to each of us to discover what that life's work is and to grow out unique signature talents into strengths.

Our life signature is the tracing of the talents we
are given and how we express them in our lives. Leadership development is simply self-development....nurturing what nature delivered.

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