My daughters and I volunteer for a church “KidPack” program where youth groups come and pack food for local elementary school kids to take home for the weekend. This week, a middle-school aged hockey team of about 20 kids helped out. As they repeatedly made their way around the table packing bags of food, there was one particular gentleman I noticed and thought, “He’ll be a leader someday.”
How can I call myself any type of professional or expert in this field? You can’t spend 30 minutes with someone and think they’re a leader! There are programs in companies that spend millions of dollars to identify and train leaders. There are literally millions of books on the topic. Where on earth ARE we if you still just “get a feeling” about someone being a leader?
But, against all logic, there I was with this sense he would be a leader someday. Why did I think that? Granted, I admit, I am always looking for leadership wherever I go.
The following reasons maybe aren’t one-for-one with adults — we’re talking about an 8th grader here. But maybe we aren’t so far apart from adolescents…
He was one of a few who made eye contact and calmly said “thank you” even to my seven-year-olds each and every time we handed him a bag.
He seemed to be above the antics (even though they were amusing to watch): the good-natured ribbing, carrying on, laughing, as they plodded their way through this repetitive task. It’s not that he wasn’t having fun, it’s just that he seemed to take what he was doing somewhat seriously and wanted to do it well. Also, looking at the group as a whole, they were generally polite and kind — the group had a culture to it, and it was positive.
Most of the kids had on some NHL, collegiate, local team or other practice jersey. He had on casual clothes, and took off the knit hat once inside that everyone else left on. Put more simply, his appearance set him apart from the others, in a good way.
Wow, I’m stunned I’m even writing this. Can you think of people who just come across like leaders because of their appearance and how they act? Is it possible we attempt to over-analyze out these unavoidable realities of human nature? What subtle but important impact does his behavior and actions have on the broader team? At the same time, I understand the place for analysis to avoid discrimination and other unfortunate consequences of first impressions.
So, back to the original question: Are leaders actually born, not made?
Perhaps it’s not a born OR made argument, it’s a born AND made reality — it’s both.
Clearly from the above example, there are people, even youngsters, who just exude leadership. You can hardly explain it.
In the “made” realm, it’s equally possible his parents “made” him in some way by setting high expectations, providing support and being a good example.
It’s also clear that being made a leader needs to start way sooner. Who knows, maybe companies should take the millions of dollars they spend on leadership programs for their adults and move the training to middle and high school students and their parents, thus investing future talent. Hmmmm.
Moving along throughout the week, try something: see if you notice having this sense about people, then ask yourself why they seem like leaders to you. Also, look back on your own leadership journey: were you born, or made a leader? In what ways?