Anyone who has ever listened to sports commentators or seen a Disney movie will be well versed in the concept of the born leader.
It’s a popular idea in Western culture that people develop in the womb, through genetics, the ability to inspire others, direct teams and guide organisations.
The trouble is, it appears not to be true, at least not entirely. Studies have shown that only 30% of leadership skills are genetic, with 70% coming as a result of life experience. In this particular debate, nurture has the upper hand over nature.
What is more surprising is just how quickly that nurturing can be done.
Academics at the University of Illinois found that reluctant leaders can be ready to lead teams in as little as 15 weeks. Professors Kari Keating, David Rosch and Lisa Burgoon examined the performance of their introductory-class students. These students self-certified as being unsuited to leadership, lacked confidence in their own abilities and were unable to imagine themselves in a leadership role.
Yet in just over three months of coaching, the same students showed remarkable gains in the key areas that contribute to what the professors call “leadership readiness” — self-confidence, and the skills and motivation to lead.
The advent of effective management training has helped change the stale, conventional image of the leader. “Historically, leaders have been viewed as being male and power-orientated,” says Professor Burgoon.
That’s mostly genetics. But it turns out that DNA is a mere bit-part player in the leader’s art. Leadership is mostly learned, not born.