Some say the traits of great leadership are innate, or, that great leaders are born that way. The argument is the old nature vs. nurture debate. I disagree with “I was born this way.” I believe the deliberation is really one of default vs. decision. There are many factors which make great leaders that we cannot fully identify yet many which we can. Bottom line: poor, and some mediocre, leaders will blame nature; great leaders will credit everyone around them.
It appears humans like to leverage the philosophy which best suits their situation. One set of beliefs states boldly, “I can be whatever I want to be!,” while the other way of thinking claims, “I was born this way.” People are a fickle bunch. Both of these statements can come from the same mouth depending on the obstacles in the path or the grandeur of the moment. Blaming has been around since Genesis chapter 3 verse 12.
The legacy of great leadership often follows within a family. You will find that exposure of a young child to parents who parent well produces leaders. Why? Leadership is influencing and so is parenting. My parents did not allow me to blame them for anything, saying in effect, “Get over it and move on.”
I teach my children that I cannot make them do anything. I merely present options with associated consequences. These costs are often naturally occurring and sometimes they are just my reaction to their decision. They have the opportunity to influence my behavior by their course of conduct. No victims allowed here.
This same legacy of influence can be found in work groups and organizations where great leadership is exhibited, here too, great leaders are produced. This is not genetic. Great leaders develop others to be great leaders. It is part of what great leaders do. No excuses allowed here.
A great leader does not just show up one day any more than the anonymous great athlete walks out on the field of play the very first time on game day. Great leaders practice their craft and skills every day in all situations of their lives. This habitual behavior might have made headlines or magazine cover in another venue. But, it went unnoticed because those who witnessed did not capture the moment in word, photo or video. This time, connections or luck did not provide mass media attention. It could have been a heavy news day. Soldiers, rescuers, parents, teachers, healers, entrepreneurs and other leaders perform great unpublicized leadership actions daily.
Another aspect of renowned great leader is that of opportunity. It is the occasion of time, place, and preparation which highlights the leader in the grandeur of success. How about Captain Chesley Sullenberger and the crew of US Air Flight 1549 which landed in the Hudson river? Do you think they just happened to train on emergency procedures the day the aircraft failed? It was a good thing for well over 100 passengers on the Airbus 320 that their great performance was well established in their routine. Supposedly, Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”
Outcomes often make heroes. A simple action can often cause disaster. If you have ever been in extreme situations you know this to be true. Many a common act becomes uncommon based on the situation. On most days the effect is ordinary but if repetitive enough an extraordinary eventuality happens. A word of caution, there is a fine line between courage and stupidity; that line is the outcome.
The nature argument is used for many behaviors. Why do we decide some behaviors are nature and some are choice? This has been debated with addictive behaviors from drugs, theft, promiscuity, and leadership. Are we responsible and choosing these behaviors, or, are we born to behave in such fashion as our genetics move us?
There are some behaviors which have physiological or psychological cause, others are just misdiagnosis of the “Therapeutic State” (see http://simone-hoedel.suite101.com/dr-thomas-szaszs-critique-of-psychiatry-a92536). I believe we choose most of our actions either by default or by decision (Default is a decision though one made passively.).
When we choose by default, we did not choose differently, we blame nature. Default is a cop out. Default says I am not to blame. The culpability rests with nicotine, cocaine, pornography, gambling or my genetics for my behavior. I cannot help that I smoke, drink, steal or philander. This is who I am, accept me.
What do we do with the knowledge that others have quit (insert any behavior here)? It was likely not easy for them stop yet they made the decision. They carried out the necessary actions. They may even have continuing desire, temptation, but they have “stayed the course.”
An Olympic Gold Medalist once told me that being the best meant being considered eccentric. While he was training, other members of his team were partying with the girls. When others took the bus to school, he would run there hours before the bus. He was training in the gym training when they arrived.
My friend Mike L., a “CSI” type forensic expert with a major crime lab, believes many envy his job of shooting and blowing things up. Yet, he claims he was the nerd in school. He now possesses many graduate degrees and the required knowledge to measure and trace trajectories and the forces emitted. Hmm, both the eccentric and the media at work for this guy. He is still odd but with super cool stories, and a real CSI job. There are many examples of decision over default.
All this to say, being a great leader is a choice; it is an active decision. It is not default. It is not easy. It is hard work. It means some will not like you. You might not be part of the in crowd, especially on the way up to the peak.
You will be studying the horizon. You will be in the books. You will be making connections. You will serve and sacrifice. You may not have as much time to be hanging with the gang or playing Halo, et al. In the purpose, if not the very words of Michael Hyatt, a blogger who wrote the post that inspired me to blog, “Great leadership is intentional.”
I recall reading John Maxwell where he states that once after a presentation he had given, someone came up to him saying they wished they had heard him speak twenty years earlier. Maxwell’s replied was, “Why?” He continued, “I didn’t know then then what I know now.” I think, with 20 years of intentional pursuit of great leadership, anyone might become a great leader.
Nature or nurture vs. default or decision; you get to decide.