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Are Leaders Born or Made?

Are leaders born, or can you make the decision to become one? Whether your view is from the bottom up, the middle or the top—your decisions make a difference. How a leader is made may surprise you.

Years ago I attended a leadership development seminar hosted by John Maxwell's Maximum Impact organization.  Looking back, I've found the insights I learned to still be essential to my approach to leading a creative team; but I've also gained a few insights of my own along the way.

The insights I took away are (in italic), followed by what I've learned.

  • You have a leadership role and responsibilities, no matter where you are in an organization.  You may not recognize your role or the responsibilities that accompany it. Either way don't be a reluctant leader.
  • Don't confuse leadership with a strong personality. I recently observed a family member step into a leadership role for which she was prepared, but unaware she was assigned to. She embraced the role, took charge, and performed exceptionally well. The role fit her spiritual and leadership gifts, and she had fun with her responsibilities.  It made me realize that often the most effective leaders are those who make things happen because they are behind the scenes directing, guiding, and influencing those who appear to be the public leaders.
  • Wise leaders make wise decisions and then manage them.  Don't be so concerned with what your next steps are until you've made a wise decision.  A wise decision will lead to wise choices, and it will be easier for you to manage those choices if you've made the right decision.
  • A leader needs to know how to deal with ambiguity.  After 30 plus years, I've realized the ability to deal with ambiguity is a core attribute required of my particular profession as a creative professional. Whether you are a leader or designer, ambiguity creates "open loops" of unresolved decisions. Open loops create anxiety in our minds and unnecessary anxiety. Learning how to close the open loops teaches us how to ask questions, and enables us to move forward. 
  • A leader must be a creative thinker.  Now that you know I'm a creative professional, you'll understand why this tenet resonates with me. Anticipating needs and thinking beyond perceptions is what I do, and it's how I'm wired to think so it's not even second nature—it's how I lead.  Consider how this tenet is related to dealing with ambiguity.
  • A leader is a steward of equipment and resources.  And people. As a leader, you must invest in those with whom you spend your time. The people with whom you lead are part of your stewardship.  If you've inherited a position—some might call that a promotion—the equipment, resources, and people are your inheritance. They are a gift to help you accomplish something greater, together. Don't squander your inheritance.
  • Behavior and performance are more important that words.  What we say can often be misconstrued or misinterpreted. In an instant or over time, it's our actions that will define and reveal our intent and our motivations. If in doubt, don't speak, demonstrate. 
    • Values define character.
    • Character defines culture.
    • Culture is character in action.
  • A great leader is aware of the big picture and the details.  Think of the forest and the trees or the horizon and the road. Get up from your desk, walk around, and talk to people. Visit your customers, ask them where they are struggling with business, listen to them. Dream your big dream and have a grand vision for business. God expects that of you. Without an awareness of the big picture, you won't know what details to pay attention to. If you don't take steps to accomplish the details, you'll never realize your vision.
  • Learning to lead yourself is the place to start.  Know yourself, what motivates you and what demotivates you. 

Now, if you think this is all heavy stuff, it's time to lighten up with a visit to Despair.com, home to demotivational products, and a brilliant parody of the success posters genre.

If you look through the posters at the web site, there is a poster that addresses every major leadership point above. How brilliant is that?

Are leaders born or made? I think over time, leaders are refined and distilled. The process involves heat and pressure, and the result is the essence of the opportunities, experiences, and time that went into it.

Don't despair. You can be a leader. Now get back to work.

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