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Leaders and Followers: Nature vs Nurture

The idea that leaders are born, not made, dates back centuries. Like a gifted athlete or a musician performing effortlessly on their respective stages, some people are endowed with a natural ability to inspire followers.


Still, even natural-born leaders need to develop these skills over time. The fact that US companies spend billions each year training its current and future leaders is a testament to the fact that these skills can be developed. The answer to the question “Is a leader born or made?” is a resounding yes.


While leadership takes many forms, it’s essentially the ability to motivate a person, or persons, to work to achieve a goal. Today’s leaders need to adapt to a fast-paced, constantly changing marketplace—one that is often global in scope. That said, here are a few indispensable characteristics of 21st Century leaders.


Vision: A leader must know exactly where he wants to be – not just a week or month from now – but a year or more from now. Being a good leader means having a grounded, thoughtful view of what the future holds.


Customer focus: To develop that vision a leader has to know his customers. Staying current on the information that is most valuable to customers interested in buying one of his products is an ongoing process.


Team. Team. Team. Most people get to leadership positions by getting things done. That’s great. But leadership is about teaching and coaching others. It requires empathy, the ability to put yourself in your employee’s shoes.

Gary Hamel, the CEO of Strategos, says: “You need to have the ability to relate to your employees and be able to put yourself in the soul of your people. Without the empathetic trait, it’s very hard to rally your troupes around your vision.”


Ask the right questions. We’ve all seen it. You are in a meeting and someone asks a great question that unlocks a situation. Often, the issue being discussed in a meeting doesn’t address the question that really needs to be asked.


Many managers make the mistake of thinking leadership is all about being charismatic. However, the ability to lead in a way that makes people want to follow is the most important quality of an effective leader.