Executive Subscription

Sign up & maximize your leadership effectiveness with our weekly digest of strategies, insights, and tips ─ delivered straight to your inbox.

Layer boundary

What Inborn Leadership Traits Do You Have?

Posted by Cristina Filippo on 08/18/2015
Nature vs. Nurture
For years there has been a debate in the literature about whether leaders are born or made.  Trait Theorists believe that people inherit certain qualities and traits that make them better suited to leadership. 
 
“To suggest that leaders do not enter the world with extraordinary endowment is to imply that people enter the world with equal abilities, with equal talents.” (Thomas Carlyle 1840)
 
There are certain inborn characteristics that predispose people to be and become leaders. There is a significant difference between “learning a skill” and being the master of one, in the same way that individuals are born with amazing musical gifts or athletic talents. They will excel naturally in these areas but others would be like a fish out of water and may struggle to get to the same point.
 
On the other hand, Behavioral Theorists believe that people can become leaders through the process of teaching, learning and observation. Leadership is most certainly a set of skills that can be learned by training, practice and experience over time. Leadership learning is a lifetime activity for most.  In On Becoming a Leader, the late, great leadership guru Warren Bennis argued that leaders are made not born:
 
“Experiencing struggle and hardship molds leaders.  The journey to becoming a leader comes as a result of going through a process of self-discovery.” 
 
So where do I weigh in?  I am going to declare myself a “fence sitter” in this case.  My belief is that leaders CAN be made.  People who apply themselves are able to display amazing leadership behaviors that go far beyond any distinct personality traits.  HOWEVER, I would also assert, based on an enormous amount of research, that there is some “hard-wiring” that we cannot ignore and points to certain inborn traits that make some individuals better suited for leadership. 
At Impact Consulting we routinely assess both the innate leadership traits as well as those “learned” leadership behaviors through a very rigorous leadership battery.  For the purpose of this blog, we ask you to consider some of those inborn leadership traits found in the research.

Inborn Leadership Traits
As you are thinking about yourself and your own leadership skills, as well as current team members or even potential job candidates, consider these eight innate leadership traits and gauge them on a scale from one to ten.  This will give you a very good idea of what you should expect and demand of yourself, your team and those you might hire in the future.   All of these traits, if in the “ideal doses” equate to enhanced leadership potential:
 
1.  Dominance – Ability to be assertive, forceful and aggressive.
 
2.  Capacity for Status – Comfort with high status people; identification with authority figures.
 
3.  Sociability – Being naturally outgoing and sociable; participative temperament.
 
4.  Social Presence – Poise when spontaneity is required.  Ability to think on one’s feet in personal and social interactions.
 
5.  Self Assurance – Degree to which one feels a sense of personal worth, self-acceptance.
 
6.  Independence – Being independent, confident, and personally resourceful.
 
7.  Empathy – Capacity to think intuitively about people and to understand their feelings, attitudes and reactions to events.
 
8.  Psychological Mindedness – Interest in, and responsiveness to, the inner needs, motives and experiences of others; ability to read people and situations.
 
Given these inborn traits – the next, and possibly more important battle, comes with you coming to terms with what your current leadership behaviors are (the "learned" leadership skills) and refining those (future blog?) in order to be more effective in your role.  If you would like to learn more about how you officially “score” on these leadership traits, let us know and we will set up a time to discuss options with you.  Or if you absolutely believe one way or the other and are not a "fence sitter" like me - we would love to hear your thoughts!

As an introduction to our new partner, Hogan Assessments (see sidebar), we would like to share a thought-provoking video with you on the science of personality.  Enjoy!
Video: The Science of Personality

Footer border