Scott Eblin’s recent blog post on assessing a candidate’s leadership potential brought up some great points and got me thinking about what qualities make for the best leaders. While it is easy to notice that there are major differences between great leaders and wholly ineffective ones, it can be difficult to pin down exactly what characteristics separate the two. Many leadership skills are innate or impalpable; they are often easier to spot in action—or in absence—than they are to put into words.
An analogy I often draw upon comes from my experience with college professors—some are extremely intelligent and clearly knowledgeable in their area of expertise; however, that does not necessarily qualify them to be a good teacher. It takes more than just vast knowledge on a topic to be able to teach it to others. It requires the right set of soft skills in order to relay the information in a way that others will understand and the patience needed to work with many different types of learners.
Simply put, being smart doesn’t mean you can teach what you know. Similarly, just because an individual has made it up the chain of command into a leadership role, they are not necessarily qualified or capable of leading others. As Eblin aptly put it, quality leaders possess abilities in two categories: those that drive results and those that build relationships. One without the other is imbalanced and ineffective; you could end up with either a micromanaging jerk or a buddy-buddy type. The equilibrium between the two must be right in order to have a successful leader in your midst.
Some feel that leadership qualities are inherent and therefore cannot be taught. Others have made it their life’s work to coach people to become more effective leaders. I believe, like many aspects of the human persona, the characteristics that make up great leaders are formed through a combination of nature and nurture.
What do you believe?
Do you think great leaders are born or made—or, is it a combination of both?