Career Changers

Are Leaders Born or Made?

May 12th, 2010

Lately, I've been thinking a lot about leadership -- more precisely, the lack of it. In government. In the business world. In movements initiated by people who are fed up with one thing or the other. If an alien landed on earth and said, "Take me to your leader," who would that be?

Ever since we began work on the Career Changers TV show for OC16, I've been saving articles and columns related to managing people and businesses. There are some very smart executives and consultants who offer great advice, mostly gained from personal experience or learned from older mentors. The irony is age and experience have practically become negatives in many companies, where cutting costs often means targeting older employees. Younger workers are cheaper hires and get less benefits such as fewer vacation days. And they usually won't question their bosses, even when they should.

However, I wonder if ageism is costing companies more in the long run. I keep hearing business horror stories about younger employees who seem careless or indifferent about their jobs, and wind up making mistakes that an older, more experienced person probably wouldn't have made. More importantly, younger people are less likely to show initiative and take charge in situations that require leadership.

But can leadership qualities be taught or instilled in workers? Or is it something you develop on your own? Back when I was in my mid-20s, I was a marketing assistant at one of the largest business seminars companies in the country. They offered all kinds of courses on management skills and motivating employees. They were also one of the most poorly run companies I've ever seen, and had to file for bankruptcy. Apparently, the top execs there didn't practice what they preached.

In any event, what prompted this blog topic was a Twitter post by Jana Eggers, who I began following after reading her NY Times Corner Office interview. The other day she tweeted she was wearing one of her company's custom-message t-shirts that was inspired by an earlier NYT Corner Office interview... which she linked to and I read. You should read it too if you want some good insights on managing people in different cultures.

Below, I'm also including a link to a NYT book review for The Art of Choosing, which is about decision-making. When you get right down to it, good leaders and managers are better at solving problems and giving clear directions. There's a methodology to making good choices.

What say you? Are you a leader or a follower?

NY Times Corner Office interview link, Managing Globally, and Locally.

Jana Eggers Twitter link - She often shares insights and links related to running businesses and staying motivated. Here's her own NYT interview, which I mentioned in a prior blog post.

"Indecision-Making" review of book that says more choice actually leads to less satisfaction and less happiness.

Don't forget to tune into the latest Career Changers TV show! Scroll down the the CCTV website page for our daily viewing schedule.

6 Responses to “Are Leaders Born or Made?”

  1. Z:

    With regards to young vs old, I have seen it both ways. I have seen young people who don't question things when they should, and I have also seen older employees assume that because they're older and presumably wiser, their opinions should automatically be given greater weight. I have also seen local companies staffed with mostly older employees, and it was frequently a case of too many chiefs, not enough indians. How many older wiser employees are willing to be indians at the bottom of the totem pole?

  2. Rich Figel:

    Agreed -- and I don't think older workers necessarily should be given an automatic pass. Many "experienced" workers never advance beyond a certain level because they aren't leader types and are more comfortable being followers. But I think you can tell early on who are leaders and who are followers.

    I just had a discussion with a company GM who noted that her company tends to hire a lot of "older" women to run their different branch offices, and these women are very competent and dedicated to their jobs -- and are willing to do it for less than men would. At this company, they have a high turnover among younger workers who aren't willing to put in as many hours as the older ladies. Is it insecurity on the part of the women? Is the company exploiting the "older" employees because they know it's harder for us old folks to find new jobs if we need to?

    Again, I shouldn't generalize about "younger" people -- I've met some brilliant, hard working guys and ladies in their 20s. But from what I hear, they are the exception and a large percentage of recent college graduates are entering the workforce, unprepared... and often with indifferent attitudes. That's coming from the managers and execs who hire them.

  3. Scott:

    It's gonna be a big slap in the face for recent college grads, with respect to their job searches. Hopefully their parents and surroundings didn't instill the entitlement mentality in them too much. I hope the country is taking a turn back towards to mid-last century, where hard work paid off and people didn't spend more than they made. I know it's tough. I'm 30, spent the last 7 months unemployed and have credentials that far trump folks in their early 20's. It's tough out there, good luck!

  4. Michael:

    Leaders are one of a million, born or made. What many lack is common sense. Common sense is learned. It is up to one to use it.

  5. Rich Figel:

    Howzit, Michael -

    Did you get your computer fixed or are you still using a rental?

    Regarding leaders and common sense, isn't that what separates good leaders from bad ones? I think common sense comes from experience and being brought up to think on your own two feet, while being taught right from wrong by your parents or guardians.

  6. Michael:

    My dinosaur may he rest in peace. I have a whole new systems. Windows 7 home premium and burning day light. just came in today. Not bad for 7 years old computer. Windows XP 2003.

    A leader is a lonely job. Why I think the Military believes in Officers do not fratenize with the Enlisted.

    Children learn from what they do. If they touch a hot stove and get burnt they don't touch it again. Common sense. No parent is perfect and they should learn from their children as well. A teacher teaches but can still learn from their students. Pending on how you look at things. Parents learn sometimes too late and someone dies from abuse. Verbal or physical. I always argued with my parents thinking there are better answers to things. I will and always will be contrary.