The question of whether leaders are born or made is as timeless as the age-old controversy about the chicken and the egg. This question remains debatable today, and in this arena volumes of research have been carried out.

Fortunately for us, some of the contributing factors or origins of leadership has become clearer after many years of studies and, whilst no predictive answers have been given, we now know a lot more about whether leaders are born or made.

Many people believe that some people come into the world with the capacity to lead—and that everyone else doesn’t have this capacity—and there’s not much you can do about it.

The origins of leadership can, however, be better described as a bell curve where the few people at the top are born with the capacity to lead and, with a little effort, get better and better. These are the ones who are born to lead.

There are also a few people at the lower bottom of the curve, who, no matter how hard they try, may never be very good leaders.

Then, there’s the majority in the middle, which is where most of us find ourselves; where the potential for ‘made-leaders’ lie.

I believe that everyone has the potential to be a leader; a leader in your family, amongst your peers at school, at your workplace or within your social circles. Many people, however, run away from leadership positions. When people are asked to volunteer to lead, nobody wants to adopt the position for various reasons.

The truth is that there are countless books; probably more than anyone can bear to read, all promising to tell the secrets of leadership. There are also courses in leadership that offer sound training in certain skills. However, unless you get up and practice, no course or training programme is going to teach you how to lead; essentially, you learn on your own. You learn best by doing.

In essence, the journey to great leadership begins from within. You must start with a passion to discover who you truly are and why you are here on earth because the world is full of fakers; people who are trying to be like someone else, but you cannot afford to be one. We are all wired differently; each of us encompassing unique gifts, talents, potentials and callings.

There is a place for you and your natural gifts in the world. There is a square hole, into which your square peg will fit perfectly, but there are also many other holes where, no matter how hard you try, you will never fit in perfectly, and so you would be unable to experience true success in life.

To be a great leader, you must seek to know yourself. What are your strengths and weaknesses? What do you care about the most? What are your values? How closely do your actions line up with your promises? The more self-aware you are the more improvable and better able you’ll be to accept what you need to do in order to improve. When people who know little about themselves want to grow, it is like someone who wants to travel to Tamale and he thinks he’s starting from Kumasi when he’s actually at Aflao.

Let’s Demystify Leadership

Leadership is like passing on the knowledge of how to tie a shoe lace to your child. Initially, you show by example on a number of occasions. Then you do it for the child and have him or her share in the experience. Finally, the child does it on their own, with coaching and encouragement from you.

Quite often, they do it differently, utilising their own style, but nevertheless they accomplish the task. Subsequently, they move on to seeing you as providing the knowledge, skills, patience and encouragement for them. If you have ever been a part of this accomplishment with young children or you remember the moment when you accomplished tying your own shoes, for example, you will understand the basic premise of leadership.

There are over three hundred and fifty definitions of leadership that have been generated by leadership researchers over the years. One of the most comprehensive definitions of leadership that I have come across is that by Dr Myles Munroe, who defined leadership as ‘the capacity to influence others through inspiration motivated by passion, generated by vision, produced by a conviction, ignited by a purpose’.

A careful analysis of this definition reveals a number of key words that you need to grasp fully in order to comprehend the concept of leadership.

‘Capacity’, in the context of leadership, is simply ability that comes through knowledge, training or experience; in other words, to be a great leader, you must have an appreciable amount of knowledge about leadership, which can be garnered through training programmes, studying, mentoring, coaching, and practising, and so on.

Leadership is about influence—not titles. In the context of leadership ‘influence’ is the power to affect other people, things or the course of events in a way and direction in which it would have been impossible without the action of the person called ‘leader’.

There are so many ways to influence people, including with the use of force and threats; however, real leadership uses inspiration as opposed to force.

Leadership requires passion; it requires an unrelenting inner drive to accomplish a certain goal. A real leader has an idea, a goal or a dream about which he or she is truly passionate. Passion is contagious. Other people are drawn to a leader mainly because of his or her passion.

Vision, in the context of leadership, is simply a goal or a clear picture of the better future that the leader sees. Vision generates the energy and drive for the leader to make the required sacrifices for the future. A real leader has a clear vision, and he or she remains committed to the vision and communicates it clearly to the right people.

Conviction is an unshakable belief in something. In the context of leadership, a real leader has a strong persuasion, belief or conviction relating to his or her vision. This conviction helps the leader sail through difficult and trying times. Without conviction, leadership can become a nine-day wonder.

Purpose is the reason for which something is done, created or exists. As explained earlier on in this chapter, a real leader needs to understand and know his or her purpose in life. He must not be simply following the crowd. He must have a reason behind his or her vision. And it is this vision that becomes the seed or starting point for the entire leadership experience.

Who are you called to lead?

Every leader must know who he or she is called to lead because no one is called to lead everybody in the world. Even Jesus Christ, the greatest inspirational leader of all time, primarily was called to the Jews, also known as the lost sheep of Israel (see Matthew 15:24 and Matthew 10:5-9). The Apostle Paul was called to bring the Gospel to non-Jewish people. Dr Martin Luther King Jnr was called to Americans. Mother Teresa was called to the poor in Calcutta. And so the list goes on. I am called to help the youth in Africa. The question is: who are you called to lead?

Benefits of developing the art of leadership

Leadership is like yeast, whoever develops their leadership capacity cannot be hidden. When you develop the leader in you, no matter where you find yourself, you’ll be placed above others. Just like the Biblical Joseph, when the capacity of leadership in you is well-developed, you may be employed as a cleaner but you’ll soon be made the head of cleaners. You may be thrown into prison but before long you’ll be made the supervisor of all the inmates; and when you find yourself in the presidential palace, the people will have no choice but to make you a vice president or a great leader of some sort!

My advice to you is, no matter your present role, find time to develop your leadership capacity. I tell bankers, for instance, that when you develop your capacity for leadership, it doesn’t matter if you started off as a teller, it’s just a matter of time, and you’ll end up as a manager or even the CEO of the bank!

The making of a leader

Going by the bell curve concept, most of us fall within the middle belt where we may not have been born leaders but we have the potential for leadership. Let me share with you a few ways in which you can increase your leadership capacity:

Reading Books

Knowledge is powerful. Knowledge is the fundamental way in which your life can be transformed. Knowledge is the greatest weapon you need to change the status quo of your life. You will never rise higher than the level of your head knowledge. To grow as a leader, you must read and absorb as many leadership books and materials as possible. When your leadership knowledge increases, your capacity to lead will also increase. President Harry S. Truman said ‘Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers’.

Leadership Training

One of the quickest ways to grow in leadership capacity is to attend and participate in various leadership development and training programmes. At such events, you will have the opportunity to hear directly from leadership experts, and also get the opportunity to interact with them. At such events you will also find likeminded people who are equally passionate about leadership, and their passion and knowledge will positively rub off on you. By attending leadership training and development programmes, you are afforded the rare opportunity to network and make friends with people who are likely to be future leaders.

Mentoring and Coaching

Mentoring and coaching are also incredible ways to develop your leadership capacity. Mentors and coaches spend time with you on a one on- one level. They are able to address your peculiar questions on leadership. A good leadership mentor is someone who, him- or herself, is a veteran leader. They have been through the mill and can help you, through their wise counsel, to navigate the same leadership journey upon which you wish to embark.

Get up and dance

You can read all the great leadership books you can find, attend great leadership seminars and have the best coach or mentor, but if you do not ‘get up and dance’—in other words, if you do not get up and practice your leadership skills—you will never become a great leader. Leadership is an action word. A leader makes a path where there was none. A leader thinks the impossible and attempts to do it. A leader is not worried about what people have to say and they are not afraid to be branded a failure for a season because he or she knows that, every time they ‘fail’, they have not failed but rather discovered a new way of not doing something.

Be willing to serve

Service is the secret to leadership. As one author puts it, ‘organisations exist to serve and leaders exist to serve’. The very ethos or purpose of a leader is to serve; therefore, when you serve well, you become great one day. Leadership is not about being seen by everyone. It is not about the one with the biggest title. It is not the one with the biggest salary.

The true leader is the person who serves most—and guess what? Opportunities abound around you to serve. See service as your road to greatness and serve your community, your fellow students, your work or social group with passion and dignity.

Source: Dr Kofi Osei-Kusi is a life coach, speaker, and consultant. 

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