The idea that leaders are born, not made persists even though we have little evidence for this theory, because it is perpetuated by misperceptions, the media, and antiquated ideologies. It is also supported, in part, by 100 years of trait research that has resulted in a myriad of management training books and seminars. It is such a pervasive notion that it is taught at home by parents who might encourage their extroverted children to be leaders, while not encouraging their competent but otherwise introverted children.
Today we recognize that leadership traits are acquired rather than inherited. Northouse (pp. 23-26) identifies five general categories of such traits: (1) intelligence; (2) self-confidence; (3) determination; (4) integrity; and (5) sociability. Reading the couple chapters of our textbook has been an eye-opening experience for me. I came into this course believing that people were instinctively born a leader, but after chapter one I was able to view leadership as a skill that can be learned, an ability that can be developed, a behavior that can be demonstrated, a relationship that can be interactive, or a process where you drive everyone to a common goal (Northhouse, 2012, p.3-6). Leadership is a lot of things, all of which can all be enhanced by the “natural “ trait of charisma, but not reliant upon the one influential trait (Northhouse, 2012, p. 30).
I had no leadership experience before I naively thrust myself into entrepreneurship. I was relationship oriented by nature, task oriented as an employee, and as it turned out, I was a command and control, top down kind of leader. I didn’t adjust my style to my workforce, I just resented them for their inability to present the skill required to appreciate my leadership. Very few have come back to thank me, but my highest producer and best recruiter did thank me, that is, as she was turning down a new opportunity to work with me on a project a couple of years later. I was operating as an authoritarian who had little faith in my 50+ representatives’ desire to succeed.
My sobering collision with leadership left me unhappy with my leadership techniques, so I decided my charismatic husband would just be the “good cop” and I would be the “bad cop”. I have worked hard to change the leader I was in 2008. Still, for everything I did wrong, I did quite a few things right. I always maintained an open and honest communication with everyone we partnered with. From the top-down, I could be counted on to have integrity and clarity in my interactions, often putting my promises in writing so that I could be held accountable and so my people could be protected. I became more knowledgable in my product and was able to demonstrate the important traits of confidence and intelligence in my corporate and office communications (Northhouse, 2012, chapter 2). I was our designated trainer, website designer, policy write, script preparer, contract preparer, and operations manager. I often worked through the night without sleeping more than a couple of hours, and as a result, I became an incredibly hard-worker. I also adopted some of the sociability traits that I had observed in my husband. I threw pizza parties and celebrated our reps’ birthdays, I let them talk to me about their personal issues, and cared about their growth outside of my office. All of these changes made a difference in my experience as a leader, and my representative’s experience in my company.
Northouse, P.G. (2016). Leadership: Theory and Practice (7th ed.). Los Angeles: Sage Publications.