Culture and Creativity

Leadership: You Either Have It Or You Don’t

I believe that everyone is capable of learning new and complex information. Employees can learn new skills, managers can learn new processes, and we can all identify ways to better communicate with one another through ongoing professional development. However, I do not believe we can simply “train” someone in leadership.

Now, let me back up. I do believe that leaders can develop and continue to grow in their leadership capacity. Meaning, a leader can learn new philosophies in leadership and business and apply those to their career, but I don’t think you can teach someone how to be a leader. If you reflect on great leaders you know in your life, chances are they demonstrated leadership traits at a young age and have continued to learn and grow in their leadership abilities over the years.

One of these attributes that are most important is humility. In the book Good to Great by Jim Collins, CEOs of great companies were interviewed about their success in business. Each time, the CEOs cited being in the right place at the right time, or luck as the reason to their success. Now, we all know this is simply not the case. They had to work hard and make tough decisions and position the company for growth. What this statement does say about these remarkable leaders is that they all share a similar personality (and leadership) trait which has led them to success – humility.

One of the best bosses I have had in my career was someone who connected with her team. She had a great pulse on what was working and what needed work within the organization. She was direct in her approach and delivered feedback urgently while focusing on solutions. She thought of the big picture and would give us overall objectives while allowing us to be creative in how we delivered the end result. Most importantly, she knew that her number one role as a leader was to cultivate, grow, and challenge other leaders.

In knowing her, these traits were not learned or taught. She led in this manner because of her upbringing, experiences in her career, watching other successful leaders, and her personality.

As a child, I always enjoyed risk. I would encourage my brothers and sister to do things they probably shouldn’t have done because I loved working through challenges and creating something new. Not much has changed all of these years later and I act in this same way as a leader today. While I have grown in how I make decisions and developed stronger skills for identifying risk, I’ve always been inclined to take risks and work through the challenges and consequences successfully.

Now, think of your least favorite leader. When thinking about a few poor leaders I have witnessed in my day, it is clear that they want and view leadership much differently. I recently worked with a leader who looked great on paper. They had a lot of experience in the industry, previous leadership roles, and impressive career accomplishments. Watching this person lead, however, was a different story. They struggled with taking partners and having a true awareness of their team’s pain points. This of course, led to the team being disconnected and feeling undervalued, which led to disengagement and a lot of unproductive time talking about issues that needed addressing. No matter how many “trainings” this person sat through, they would never change their behavior. This leader was much more focused on individual work and didn’t put value in finding the team’s path to success.

Less successful leaders can be spoon-fed trainings, and put them in challenging roles to “stretch” them, or pair them up with a great mentor, but chances are, they will fail. Sometimes we want something so badly for others that we have a hard time looking at what history has shown us about their ability. While we are all capable of change and growth, it must come from a foundation already built.

We sometimes throw training at someone as a last ditch effort to try to help a bad situation. We cross our fingers and then hope they will come back a changed person. When history repeats itself, we throw our arms in the air and blame training! “They didn’t have enough training!” or “The training wasn’t right.”

Our CEO at GL group is a great leader. He thinks of creative, out-of-the-box solutions to concerns. He listens to others and while he isn’t always the one with all the answers, he empowers all of us to find and own the solution. He is the first one to follow up after a conversation with an employee and everyone feels heard in his presence. These qualities – and more – make him a strong leader.

The best leaders are born with important traits that make them successful – they can’t be taught. I believe that to be a great leader, you have to be humble. You have to be able to put others’ first and take risks.  But you cannot teach someone to be humble or selfless or bold. You either are, or you are not.  


AUTHOR: Lisa Whealon