Monday, January 18, 2010

Leadership: trait or process?

Recently in grad school I have been asked whether or not leadership is a trait one is born with or if it is learned through a process over time. Below are my responses made in the class.

Leadership can seem at times like a trait given to some people at birth. The kid in school who always commanded the class's attention, the guy at work with all the great ideas and the friend in the group that makes all of the decisions are all examples. Leadership, however, is not a trait but a process. How, then, did all of those people become leaders? Simple, they have had life experiences that taught them a lot about being a leader. It wasn't necessarily on purpose, but the right combination of life happened and they gained the skills to lead. The good news is that those skills are part of a process that can be learned.

Being a process makes leadership a skill that needs always to be worked on. Rowe states that, "leadership is about influencing a group of people who are engaged in a common goal or purpose" (Rowe 2007, p. 1). You cannot be a leader without followers. Even an assigned leader can still have a team to lead but not have any followers. In order to be a leader you must know the goals and purposes of a group and continue to have a dialog that allows you to know when those goals change. Once a leader's goals differ from those of the group it will not matter how much of a leadership trait is present, it will fail.

Leadership as a process

I am a true believer that personality traits are fostered through life experiences, including modeled behavior by those in one's life. If I walked in Bill Gates' shoes from birth until now I would be Bill Gates. The thing is, no one can completely walk in someone's shoes because to completely understand someone else's actions, reactions and personality you would have to have had the exact same experiences, be the same person. Had I been adopted by Bill Gates' family and they never had given birth to him, my experience would still be different. They would treat me differently, not necessarily love me less. Then there would be my journey to understand my being adopted. All of these would mold me differently, while not always in a huge way. This is why it is hard for people to break from the lifestyle they were born into, whether it be poverty, abuse, etc. Hard but not impossible because as humans we have the ability to learn behavior as well. If I was an introverted child, I can learn to be extroverted. This part of humanity astounds people and gives them hope. That is why stories like the Grinch and Scrooge and rags to riches are so popular.

You can be a leader if you really want to be a leader.

No comments:

Post a Comment