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Leadership: Nature or Nurture?

When teaching leadership development courses in the Perth area, we are often asked whether we believe that leaders are born or made. The “nature vs. nurture” argument has provoked controversy, not only in the leadership development industry, but in associated fields. Myriad studies have been conducted over the last 50 years, but none of them have been able to prove either side of the argument conclusively.

One problem innate to the discussion of leadership is that there are as many as 350 descriptions of leadership, with none of them accepted as a true definition. For this piece, we will describe a leader as someone who directs a group of people toward an outcome, gains a commitment from them, and then motivates them to achieve that outcome.

This definition allows us to include divergent leadership tasks, from establishing production goals for a team or individuals on a daily basis, to creating and providing corporate strategy. In addition, it must be noted that a person does not have to fulfil all three roles to be seen as a leader by others in the company.

Once a definition is in place, it is easier to debate whether leadership is a congenital trait, or whether it can be learned solely through education and experience. Under the current model, most believe that both nature and nurture play a part in developing a leader. However, current research suggests that leadership is more likely to originate from experience.

Contrary to the belief that a person must be a born leader, the current model is shifting toward leadership skills being learned from such divergent sources as family, work experience, education, opportunity, hardship, mentors, and role models.

A survey of 200 highly successful executives revealed a distinct pattern of leadership opportunities surfacing early in their careers. These include sufficient challenges, role modelling, whether very good or very bad, assignments that forced them to expand their knowledge, coaching or mentoring from senior executives, special projects, unique development jobs, participation outside of their core responsibilities, and formal training programs.

Speaking from our experience in providing leadership development programs in Perth, we believe that leadership can be developed in people who are passionate, motivated, and dedicated.

For more information, call (08) 9242 8122 or visit our contact page.

 

Ron Cacioppe

Ron Cacioppe is the Managing Director of Integral Development and holds a BSc, an MBA and a PhD. He has taught in the Graduate School of Management at Macquarie University, Curtin University and the University of Western Australia.

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