Do you think a leader should be a hero or a negotiator? Out in front leading people or coordinating the work of the group? Destined to be a leader or developed to be a leader?

The way we think about leadership affects how we perceive the leaders around us. For instance, if we expect a leader to be a hero, we are likely to see someone who takes charge to save the day as a good leader and someone who asks everyone’s opinions and lets the group make decisions as weak.

Alternatively, if we think a leader should be collaborative and focused on making sure decisions arise from the group, we would view someone who is directive as aggressive or a tyrant.

In the same way, our beliefs about how people become leaders affect how we evaluate people’s leadership potential. Believing people are born leaders is likely to result in a focus more on selection (identify the right people) rather than on development (develop the people you get).

On the other hand, believing that people are made into leaders by their experiences would be more likely to result in a greater focus on making sure people had the right opportunities to develop into leaders.

Understanding whether people in your organization think leaders are born or made is critical because these attitudes play out in recruiting, promotion and development decisions.

Will your organization spend its money on selecting people believed to be born leaders, or on developing people into becoming leaders? Will executives emphasize selection of talent and only invest in those who they believe have leadership potential? Or will they see value in developing talent among a broad group of people?

Top leaders set the tone for the development of others within their organization, so understanding their view can inform talent identification and development strategies.

Published: January 2012
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