Natural born leaders?

August 11, 2009

The qualities of a good leader

Mr. X is good looking, very intelligent and has a high formal education. Also, he is funny (“ha ha”-funny, not weird-funny) and people like him.

Do you think that Mr. X’s good looks and his degree will help him become a good leader?

Being funny is a desirable leader quality; a good sense of humor can help you create a good working atmosphere and diminish tensions. The other features listed above are not essential and not even necessary as leader qualities.

What is essential?

Empathy is essential. If you want to work with a group you have to be able to understand how its members feel.

Sympathy (compassion) is as important; you want people you lead to be happier and more content with time? If you are a sympathetic person, it will be easier for you to react to their concerns and problems.

Being able to distinguish important from unimportant is a very useful ability. It may be my favorite at times. Doing and reacting upon things in the right order makes your and other’s lives much less complicated, and help you minimize waste.

Personal integrity and reliability are also crucial. I want a leader who does the right thing even when nobody is watching. Someone that keeps his promises and whose words can be trusted. A person with weak personal integrity can not motivate others to truly commit to common goals, since his own commitment may be questionable.

Furthermore – humility; mental robustness; being just and fair; having capacity to come up with and to realize a vision; inspiring and stimulating others – those are qualities a good modern leader needs, they are not only in the “nice to have” domain.

Leadership has many dimensions to it; what I wonder is – can it be learned, or are we born to be leaders?

Got the gene?

Is there such a thing as a “Natural born leader”? There is a study done (maybe several, I am aware of this one; Dr Senior, Aston University), and a link between certain genes and a leadership ability is found.

Transformational leadership is a style where leaders use their charisma, empathy, support, and intellectual stimulation on their team members, in order to motivate them and help them max their potential. That style of leadership is found to co-relate with a certain gene responsible for synthesizing dopamine.

Some people have “the right version” of the gene, some don’t. Those other people (brrrrr…”The Others”) are simply unable to develop efficient charisma and they score low on ability to intellectually stimulate others.

My guess is that people with “the inefficient version of the gene” probably, or just – maybe, would not make either happy or excellent leaders.

Another option is that if The Others get into leader roles, they may just practice Transactional leading style (“Respect my authoritah!!!“, clear chain of command, motivation by reward and punishment…). That leading style is actually the most common one, but definitely not my cup of tea.

Even if we start getting tested for the presence of  “the good gene” as a part of a job interview (which I do not think will ever happen and if it does something went seriously wrong with human kind) – that is only a single gene, and we are very complex organisms, with a few more genes with interesting features.

A leader since the tender age of two?

Whatever the case is; if we get born as such or we develop into small children-leaders thanks to some circumstances in our early life – some of us do show good leading abilities early in life. Already at a very young age there are children that other little ones follow, imitate more than others and do as they are told by them.

Is being a good leader from en early age a desirable feature of an excellent leader? I think it is a plus. All genetics aside; it is an experience, and therefore valuable.

Can someone learn how to be empathic, inspiring, fair, blah blah blah?

Many of us already have at least some of those qualities; they are not all that uncommon. And I guess that everyone can learn about them – what they incorporate, how they manifest themselves etc. A bit of googling and reading would get you well informed. Then comes practice, and that may take some time, depending how you are as a person today.

For example, it seems to be hard to learn how to develop empathy, if one has none or very little as a grown-up. Empathy is a skill we develop in childhood (the ability to be empathic is probably partly innate [ref]), and it is harder to build it up later in life. Still, it is not impossible; there are techniques on how to develop it further (role reversals, play acting…).

Charisma

The level of charisma, personal magnetism, may also be hard to push up (though, in Sims 3 it was pretty easy to practice speech in front of the mirror and earn quite a few charisma points :)).

Some theories are that charisma comes from an inner self-confidence that a person projects onto others. Therefore, if you think you lack charisma, the solution sounds simple to me – work on your self confidence and charisma will come to you! 😉

I believe that all the qualities that make a good leader can be achieved, improved and excelled if one works on that.

There is no universal recipe; it is about improving what you already have and learning the skills you lack.

Conclusion

You definitely do not need a plastic surgery and obtaining various degrees is not essential if you want to be a good leader.

If you want to become a leader or whatever else, the fact of the matter is: even if you lack a good gene or two and your start position in the race is shifted behind compared to others, you still may win.

One of my favorite movies, “Gattaca“, sends a great message “There is no gene for human spirit”.

You do not need a wonder for your wishes to come true and not everything is written in our genes. All that it takes is the will to change for the better. Determination and persistence will take you far.

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