Here’s a popular phrase you will hear in the corporate world: “That person is a born leader.”
But are they really?
When I was a West Point cadet, one of the first questions put to me was this: “Are leaders born or are they made?” It’s a head-scratcher, isn’t it?
I won’t keep you in suspense. The correct answer is that leaders are made; otherwise, a place like West Point wouldn’t need to exist.
That’s good news if you’re an ambitious employee at the lower rungs of an organization. Your ability to become a great leader, if you so desire, is not hampered by circumstances of birth that are beyond your control. You can take steps now to begin developing the leadership qualities that will bode well for your future in the organization.
This is also good news if you’re the CEO. It means you don’t have to rely on your employee-recruiting tactics to bring in a candidate who might – just might – happen to be a born leader. If leaders were born, not made, you could scrounge around a long time before you stumbled upon one of the chosen ones.
Instead, if you like, you can take both your new hires and employees you already have on staff and transform those people into leaders.
At Mustang Engineering, the company I helped found, I was very interested in developing leaders throughout the organization. We especially wanted to be able to cultivate leadership qualities in younger employees. So, we started what we called the “Young Guns” program where we hired recent college and high school graduates each year.
The program was a resounding success. By 2016, each Young Gun with 10 or more years of experience was in a leadership position. They were technical leads, department managers, and in corporate leadership.
It was homegrown – or homemade if you will – talent.
Of course, the fact that leaders are made does have its downsides because not everyone you try to turn into a leader works out. Once again, Mustang is an example. As our company grew and changed, some people’s skills or leadership abilities didn’t or couldn’t grow to keep up with the new demands. We found that someone who managed two people in the beginning simply wasn’t able to manage 30 people a few years later.
Fortunately, many of our people could. One of our first designers, for example, grew along with the company to where he was ultimately running a department of 1,000 people.
That raises an entirely new question: Are you hiring and developing leaders of character at every level in your organization?
If not, it’s time to put a leadership-development plan in place and get started.