Last Updated on June 15, 2023 by Dave Schoenbeck
As a corporate leader, I have made many mistakes over the years, and one of the biggest has been my hubris. For a long time, I believed that I could reshape all below-average performers into future superstars. I thought that anyone could be a leader and that it was my duty to help them reach that potential. I was so wrong. Not everyone can be a leader.
Are Leaders Born or Trained?
I have learned the hard way that most people are limited by their aptitude and attitude. While everyone might possess certain leadership qualities, not everyone can be a leader. We, as managers, must be overtly objective about each employee’s capabilities and ability to lead.
For example, I admit that I have always loved hard-working people driven to exceed expectations. I’m one of those people, so I am naturally attracted to people like me. However, while these are great leadership traits, this type of person can also be domineering, too competitive, or prone to burnout.
On the other hand, a quiet introvert might not seem like a strong leader at first glance. A further observation of their working style can reveal a solid ability to empathize and a keen awareness of their employees’ needs. There’s simply no one-size-fits-all formula for what a good leader should look like.
Can someone be taught to be a leader? Contrary to popular belief, you can’t “make” leaders. You can create an environment that develops leaders by nurturing their leadership qualities. You can set up supportive systems and surround yourself with tough, people-first, goal-oriented direct reports. You can personally invest in shaping the next generation.
Recognizing Your Strong Leaders
The fact is, while not everyone can be a leader, we often don’t know the employees that have real potential. Too often, we are so blinded by the traits we like to see in a leader that other employees slip beneath our radar.
However, there are a few traits that all good leaders absolutely must have to succeed. Leaders must be smart, especially street-smart. They must be passionate, honest, and able to influence and motivate their teammates. They must be willing to think beyond their current circumstances to visualize what could be.
While it might be disappointing to realize that not everyone can be a leader, it can also be freeing. If you have someone on your team who continuously forces you to rationalize their shortcomings, you can let them go.
If you have someone on your team that you’re tempted to move around until you find a position that fits their lackluster skillset, you don’t have to fix them. If you have someone on your team who’s not hurting you but isn’t helping you, it’s time to move on. Not everyone can be a leader, and it’s not your responsibility to help those who won’t help themselves.
Leaders must make themselves. While you can and should provide the training and resources necessary to help your employees succeed, you can’t force greatness upon the mediocre. What sets leaders apart from everyone else is their willingness to continuously improve.
Not everyone can be a leader, but those who are willing to go the distance can nurture leadership skills in those with a passion for growth.
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