LEADERS – Are they born or made?

“I am sad I could not show the path which you expected but really wish you could succeed in your next move.”

This is the message on my last working day, sent by my manager. We worked together for 2 and half years and met only twice. But I always admired his confident approach towards team members, a young dynamic leader.

I have managed tough situations with my own team racing against the clock , but I had to unlearn many of my conventional leadership qualities to grasp from my vibrant recent leaders. Now, I am really seeing the difference between, what a real leader is and how he/she sets our way for career growth.

A casual internet research, slowly absorbed me into this topic to spend some quality time and to script this blog.

The mark of a true leader is not a position, or a title held but it is how many people are willing to follow/learn them

Are leader’s born? May be or may be not.

But I firmly believe that they can be made.It is easy to list the qualities and attributes a good leader should have. But a consistent methodology or even consensus of the nature of effective leadership has been the subject of great debate. A universally accepted concept of leadership remains elusive as it continues to evolve.

Emergence of Leadership

Human beings are social animals who bond together, but also look for an order against the chaos of life. We built a society for tasks that cannot be accomplished individually. As a result someone is inevitably in charge. This early idea of leadership was born in an age were expanding the boundary and saving the tribe was the key to survival. Leaders started emerging formally or informally, Implicitly or explicitly, perceptually or behaviourally to take charge of a leaderless group.

And later with the rise of the industrial revolution, a new kind of leader emerged: Economic. Captains of Industries like Oil barons, factory owners built an empire based on modern technology instead of swords and armies. But at the expense of the people they employed. This led to rise to Union leaders.

With revolution in Industrial growth, the number of scientific leaders also increased. Psychiatry and Psychology came into prominence. Studies about workplace environment, keeping employees happy, positive ambience etc. to improve productivity started gaining importance. Character analysis and attitude became vital to evaluate the influence of a boss/leader.

Leading Theories of Leadership

Leaders and leadership have evolved and changed with each era. Though it is a nascent field of study there are many different theories to substantiate the idea of leadership.

Trait Era (Great Man Theory & Trait Theory):

Great man theory supports leaders as born heroes with specific set of traits and attributes. This innate qualities make them ideal candidates for leadership roles of authority and power (Political, Military or Religious). The biography of many such leaders are the base for history.

Leaders like Napoleon, Genghis khan, Alexander, Adolf Hilter & Mahatma Gandhi are believed to be born to rise against the odds and defeat rivals . They did inspire great number of followers along the way. This theory supported autocratic leadership, that someone in power should never be questioned. Many followers succumbed to this kind of leadership out of fear for survival. The others worshipped their leaders like god.

Trait theories proposes that characteristics of a successful leader can be either inherited or acquired. Identifying the right combination of physical, mental and social characteristics to make an effective leader gained significance.

Obviously, both these theories had several problems. There were no empirical data to prove the validity of the individual.  Further, a certain bias inherently exists as in History.

Though these theories lost charm in modern days, psychometric tools used today during recruitments are an on the basis of trait theories.

Modern Theories

New theories have given way to ideals such as authentic & environmental influenced leadership.

These theories invert the traditional paradigm of vertical leadership to a flattened form of dynamic leadership where leaders are interchangeable dependent on the task. This started the classical vs contemporary leadership discussions.

While the intricacies of each theory cannot be completely and exhaustively examined in this blog, the review and evolution of leadership principals is important in providing a framework to a better understanding of leadership Qualities from the early to modern age.

Failures are steppingstones to success

That is an easy to say quote than done. Leadership crown does come with a huge risk and responsibility. Just flip the pages of history to see many such failures during various times with huge cost paid.

These negative unintended consequences could occur because of oversight, errors, ignorance, ego, lack of expertise, lack of empathy, flawed communication, and inability to lead.

“Oh yes, the past can hurt. But you can either run from it or learn from it.” –Rafiki, from The Lion King, 1994

The difficult part of leadership is that nobody ever sits you down and “teaches” you what being a real leader is all about. Books and training session can enhance and prepare you for situations but finally it is self-learning, looking up at great leaders, listening and observing them. This does not make a modern leader flawless but can help him make his choice confidently.

Leadership Styles – Classical vs Contemporary

Some of the most common leadership styles are listed below,

Autocratic: “Do as I say” – Leader thinks he/she is the smartest person at the table, this command-and-control approach is typical leadership style of the past.

Authoritative: “Follow Me” – Confident leaders who map the way and set expectations, while engaging and energising followers along the way. They are like a visionary leader.

Democratic: “How do you see it?”  seeking opinions before any final decision. This style shares information and seeks opinions before any final decision.

Bureaucratic: “Stick to Traditional – Tested & Tried” Though not controlled as autocratic, still there is lack of freedom in this style, also this will quickly shut down innovation.

Coach Style: “Consider this” A coaching leader gives people a little direction to help them tap into their ability to achieve their full potential. The leader focusses on identifying and nurturing the individual strength of each member building a team of different expertise or skill set.

Laissez-Faire: “Let them do” This method involves least amount of oversight and empower employees by trusting them to work however they like. The leader plays a minimal role in the decision-making process.

What do you think about these leadership styles? How many of you choose to be democratic than autocratic?  

This raises a question, “Which style works? Dynamic leadership is always better than autocratic or harsh historical leadership? Hmmm… Something to muse upon.

The first thing that comes to my mind about this comparison of leadership styles is a scene from a movie.

“I don’t know: These 3 words will kill the crew” –

Can you guess the movie?

U571 (Released in 2000) – Though it is a cliché war movie, portrayed some wrong historical facts, but it is still one of my favourite movies, (Starring Matthew McConaughey, younger version)

For those who need a refresher for this epic scene can try this link.

That simple leadership advice has so much value packed in it. There is no room for discussions and opinion exchange when you are in a crisis like that. Autocratic leadership is a need to keep a crew in control, “I don’t know “might lead the crew to take their own decisions causing chaos. Autocratic leadership is not bad in a highly structured environment.  All dictators are autocratic leaders, but not all autocratic leaders are necessarily dictators. Autocratic leaders are not in the business of using their power for oppression, instead this leadership style is more focused on power for pushing the group forward.

In my experience, it is not easy to agree one style over the other without deliberating what kind of a state is a leader managing.

My thoughts about leadership

“A good leader should always … “

What would you choose? Comments below. What you choose reveals your style of leadership.

At first glance, we may think that some leadership styles are better than others. But, the truth is that leadership is a fluid practice. We’re always changing and improving our way to become that wise leader who knows to flex from one style to another as the situation demands. Great leaders adapt to their surrounding environments and empower the team to succeed together.

Today, great leaders come from all walks of life and an array of backgrounds. Leadership is a massive responsibility and ‘JD’ does not define it all. They are constantly exposed to risk and are expected to ‘fix all’. While communicating with people is not that difficult, it can be challenging to connect with people you are leading.

Obviously, no written books can completely help us solve all the problems in everyday situations.

There’s no class in our early education that defines leadership or misleads us towards the brave and stronger. Peers in group projects tend to label leaders as “overachievers” (and not in a good way). In college, leadership means who is going to talk the most during a presentation. And even on sports, the leaders are usually the best players–and wear a letter on their jerseys as a trophy of their accomplishments.

But that’s not what being a leader is all about. Especially when it comes to building a business.

They don’t have to be a charismatic extrovert. Extroverts are believed to be capable of motivating teams and building successful businesses.

“A good leader may give off him/herself. It means putting yourself last. It also means dropping the ego so the team can thrive. That’s what makes it difficult, to hold your emotions aside and to listen to others’ opinions and take a fair decision based on circumstances.”

And the longer we lead, the more likely we’ll change the way we choose to complete the sentence above.

“People want leadership, Mr. President, and in the absence of genuine leadership, they’ll listen to anyone who steps up to the microphone.”  

Lewis Rothschild, The American President ( Movie)

16 Comments Add yours

  1. palniarch says:

    Good one Lavanya 👌🏻👍🏻

    1. Thanks for reading

  2. Vivek Chaturvedi says:

    This blog is really good ma’am. Loved it. I still believe in my short working career till now you were my best mentor and leader. I guess there is nothing to unlearn instead it’s better to go far beyond in leadership with experiences. That’s what I believe.

    If you ask me my choice of leadership, it will be more of democratic with combination of coach style if at all I am in some position to work with my team in leadership role.

    Although, I am still amateur in the field of leadership. Way to go.

    1. Thanks Vivek, You had been extremely generous with your words ! It makes me feel good though😊 We all have a long way to go and lots of learning waiting for us ! Thanks for reading and sharing your inputs.

  3. Vijii says:

    Excellent one Lavanya 👏🏻

    1. Thanks a lot viji ! Glad you liked it !

  4. srinivasaraopvv3716 says:

    Great writing basis some thorough research . Would be great to look at theories like situational leadership and agile leadership as well, thought you touched bits of it .

    1. Thanks for your feedback Srini!

  5. Sindhu Abinaya says:

    This is worth reading ka.. Just love your write up and R&D you did for this post.. Wonder how u manage ur time.

    1. Thanks Sindhu ! Glad you like it !

    2. Priya says:

      Good read Lavanya..Keep going girl.👏

      1. Thanks for reading Priya !

  6. Jonathan Becker, PhD says:

    I’ve found that my leadership style has evolved. I’ve leaned heavily on democratic style in my Agile leadership roles. However, it sometimes helps to assign tasks especially to junior engineers and coach them through it. I see myself using servant leadership style more when leading and coaching team members because I see their success linked to mine as a leader

    1. Thanks Jonathan for your feedback. Great to know about your leadership style, Agree with you on your mixed approach. Yes coaching is needed during early stages and democratic gives that leverage for various new ideas and thoughts among any team. Thanks for reading my blog.

  7. Thoroughly enjoyed this, thank you

    1. Thanks James. Glad you liked it

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