Are Leaders Born or Made?

There is no shortage of opinions, but also no definitive answer.

June 03, 2013
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Leaders: Born or made?

We posed this eternal question to three executives interviewed about leadership development in the May issue of Credit Union Magazine.

“I believe leadership capability falls along the bell curve,” says Dave Gunderson, president/CEO of $690 million asset Credit Union of Southern California in Whittier. “Some people are born leaders, but they still have to develop some skills. Then there’s the bottom 10-15% that, no matter how hard they try, are likely never to become leaders.

“But then there’s the middle of the curve where the vast majority of us live,” he continues. “Two-thirds of leaders are made.”

Matt Monge, chief workplace culture officer at $477 million asset Mazuma Credit Union, Kansas City, Mo., believes the determining characteristic of leaders is becoming comfortable in your skin and accepting your vulnerability.

“It’s the ability that someone has to be human, to be flawed, imperfect, and be OK with those things,” Monge says. “It’s usually those people who learn. They’re ok with the fact that they don’t know something, so they go out and learn stuff.

“People gravitate toward them because they’re like them,” he continues. “Those are the sorts of people who start leading accidentally. When I look around an organization for leaders, the people who stand out aren’t so much the ones asking, ‘What do I have to do to become a manager?’ It’s those who are already doing it.”

For Rudy Pereira, president/CEO of $1.3 billion asset Royal Credit Union, Eau Claire, Wis., it’s not about external influences—it’s a matter of desire.

“A big part of leadership for me starts with the individual: Do they really want to learn to be a leader?” Pereira says. “I don’t think you’re born a leader. I think you can be born charismatic. But as we know, not every charismatic person is a leader, and not every noncharismatic person is not a leader. It first starts with this insatiable desire to learn.

“Therefore you’ve got to absorb; to understand what it takes,” he adds. “At the end, I come to this conclusion: There is no necessarily one right way, but it’s a combination of many different things. There’s not one program that can make you a leader. It’s a journey.”

Sidebar: What are your favorite books on leadership?
Matt Monge, Mazuma CU:
  • “Servant Leadership,” by Robert Greenleaf
  • “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team,” by Patrick Lencioni
  • “Kill the Company: End the Status Quo, Start an Innovation Revolution,” by Lisa Bodell
  • “Linchpin,” by Seth Godin

Dave Gunderson, CU of Southern California:
  • “Good to Great,” by Jim Collins
  • “Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done,” by Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan
  • “Axiom: Powerful Leadership Proverbs,” by Bill Hybels
  • “The Four Disciplines of Execution,” by Chris McChesney, Sean Covey and Jim Huling
  • “The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership,” by John W. Maxwell

Rudy Pereira, Royal CU:
  • “Great by Choice,” by Jim Collins
  • “Leading Change,” by John Kotter
  • “Jack Welch & the G.E. Way,” by Robert Slater

Matt Monge is spot on right!

Rich Jones
May 29, 2013 9:28 am
Leadership is a learned skill that first comes from as Matt stated, being vulnerable. Until a person accepts the knowledge they don't know everything and becomes a lifelong learner from others, especially those that report to them or their peers, they will not become truly great leaders...

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Great article! Unfortunately, most employees don’t feel valued or appreciated by their supervisors or employers. In fact, research has shown that the predominant reason team members quit their jobs is because they don’t feel valued. This is in spite of the fact that employee recognition programs have proliferated in the workplace – over 90% of all organizations in the U.S. has some form of employee recognition activities in place. But most employee recognition programs are viewed with skepticism and cynicism – because they aren’t viewed as being genuine in their communication of appreciation. Getting the “employee of the month” award, receiving a certificate of recognition, or a “Way to go, team!” email just don’t get the job done. How do you communicate authentic appreciation? We have found people have different ways that they want to be shown appreciation, and if you don’t communicate in the language of appreciation important to them, you essentially “miss the mark”. Additionally, employees need to receive recognition more than once a year at their performance review. Otherwise, they view the praise as “going through the motions”. A third component of authentic appreciation is that the communication has to be about them personally – not the department, not their group, but something they did. Finally, they have to believe that you mean what you say. How you treat them has to match the words you use. If you are not sure how your team members want to be shown appreciation, the Motivating By Appreciation Inventory (www.appreciationatwork.com/assess) will identify the language of appreciation and specific actions preferred by each employee. You then can create a group profile for your team, so everyone knows how to encourage one another. Remember, employees want to know that they are valued for what they contribute to the success of the organization. And communicating authentic appreciation in the ways they desire it can make the difference between keeping your quality team members or having a negative work environment that everyone wants to leave. Paul White, Ph.D., is the co-author of The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace with Dr. Gary Chapman.

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