February 08, 2011

Nature vs. Nurture

Over the last few days, one question has come up on many occasions during my lectures and dicussions.

"Can leadership be taught?"

For me, this comes down to the age old question of nature vs nurture. Are we born with qualities that make us proficient in a certain role? Or do we develop these characteristics and qualities during the course of our life?

In the context of leadership, I see one side of the argument as our nature that makes us a good leader. Qualities such as charisma, confidence, good communication skills, and integrity, that for many define what makes a good leader may be considered as traits that one is born with. The desire and ability to lead are inherent properties of you as an individual that will direct how you behave and what you do throughout your life. In essense, the traits you are born with define who you are. This stream of through leads to the idea that not everyone can be a leader because leaders are not created, leaders are born.

On the other hand, the idea of nurture leading to the creation of a good leader means that anybody could potentially be a leader. The ability to lead is gained nurtune, as individuals grow, their ability to lead other develops through training, experience, and personal development. This could be said to be by choice as an individual puts themself in situations in which they acquire leadership skills; or even by necessity if an individual is put by others into a situation in which they must take control, during the process of which they develop their abilities to lead. The idea of leadership through nurture is that leadership skills are acquired, so rather than a leader being born, a leader is created.

Any example of a good leader could be argued to be the result of nature, or nurture, depending on an individuals point of view. Take for example someone considered as an iconic leader in history, Alexander the Great. Some may attribute his conquests to the fact that he was born a natural leader and inspired others to follow him. It may also be said that his upbringing gave him the vision and experience needed to inspire others to follow him.

My personal view on the nature vs nurture argument is no so straight forward. I argue that both play a role. I see nurture as the opportunity to become a leader. Nurture gives you a path to follow that will move you towards becoming who you wish to be, a path on which you can develop you skills and gain the characteristics that will help you become a leader whose vision will inspire others to follow. Nurture is only a path however. Nature is what will define whether you follow this path of not. Is an individual born with the desire and drive to achieve all they can achieve, or will they stray from the path and not make the most of every opportunity. For me, this is why the nature vs nurture argument seems slightly too black and white, and the question of "can leadership be taught" has a rather ambiguous answer of possibly. While some are born with the desire and characteristics that make the path to leadership easier, if you are born with the desire and drive to lead then the ability to lead can be learnt.

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