“Leaders Are Made, Not Born”

Sound familiar?  The full quote came from Vince Lombardi, who said, “Leaders are made, they are not born.  They are made by hard effort, which is the price which all of us must pay to achieve any goal that is worthwhile.”  He was talking about the need to work hard for success.  The snippet of the quote in the headline of this blog post is also the topic of my upcoming workshop at the Society of Women Engineers Western Regional Conference in Honolulu, Hawaii in a few weeks, that I’m doing with my colleague and friend, Jane Whitfield of Whitfield Consulting.

Who is more likely to succeed in leadership?  If you are guided strictly by popular culture  —  TV, movies, or books written by hero CEOs, you might conclude that male extroverts are natural born leaders, and women, or even introverts, need not apply, but for the few exceptions here and there that prove the rule.  But I think Shakespeare had a more nuanced version of this concept in Twelfth Night:  “Be not afraid of greatness:  some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.”

Dr. Ronald Riggio, writing in Psychology Today, posits that the very question of whether leaders are made or born is “dangerous,” because the most important factor in effective leadership is the development of one’s natural abilities.  Having those abilities alone does not result in organizational success.  As an example, Riggio notes that research has long shown that extraverts have greater leadership potential than introverts, but only extraverts with social skills (which are generally learned) emerge as leaders.  Without effective communication skills, extroverts are the bosses who can annoy you by not being able to listen well to the team’s ideas.

Research from Wharton management professor Adam Grant and his colleagues reinforces this point.  Surveying employees and managers of a national pizza delivery chain, they found that

When employees are proactive, introverted managers lead them to earn higher profits.  When employees are not proactive, extraverted managers lead them to higher profits.  “These proactive behaviors are especially important in a dynamic and uncertain economy, but because extraverted leaders like to be the center of attention, they tend to be threatened by employee proactivity,” Grant notes. “Introverted leaders, on the other hand, are more likely to listen carefully to suggestions and support employees’ efforts to be proactive.”

Jane and I are interviewing several senior women engineering and technology executives about their fascinating career trajectories.  At the SWE Conference we will share case studies, contrast their paths to success, and identify the critical factors that helped them along the way.  If you can’t join us in Hawaii, check back here for more information from the SWE workshop, and how you can develop your skills and make yourself into the leader you want to be.


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