According to some, strong leaders are blessed with certain talents and personality traits they’ve had since birth. This is the “Great Man Theory,” as WordSmithRapport CEO and founder Karima Mariama-Arthur writes for Black Enterprise, and it suggests that only certain people have the skills necessary to guide others (and themselves) toward greatness. Mariama-Arthur isn’t buying it.
In a post titled, “Here’s Why Leaders Are Made, Not Born,” Mariama-Arthur provides three arguments that suggest people in positions of power get there by their own doing, not by birthright. First up, there’s something she calls “the whole crucible thing.” A crucible, she explains, is an “intense, transformative experience” that forever alters the way a person thinks and behaves, and Mariama-Arthur says they’re essential to leadership development. They’re part of how individuals gain perspective and learn to navigate the world, and by definition, they’re not the types of thing you come into the world having already experienced.
On a related note, Mariama-Arthur cites a 2013 American Psychological Association study that finds good leaders are people who possess finely honed “adaptive and perceptive qualities.” They know how to read situations and adjust their thinking on the fly, in other words, and once again, these are abilities that come with trial and error. No one is born with these kinds of experiences in their memory banks.
Lastly, Mariama-Arthur holds up “emotional intelligence” as the “cornerstone of effective leadership.” This means having the perfect combination of “self-awareness, self-regulation, social skills, motivation, and empathy,” and again, these are things you pick up over time by observing and interacting with others.
“We reflect, evaluate, and conclude,” Mariama-Arthur writes. “Right, wrong, or indifferent, we also make decisions based on the knowledge we acquire in this process.”
Ultimately, Mariama-Arthur’s debunking of the “Great Man Theory” is great news for those of us who haven’t always fancied ourselves Churchills or Alexander the Greats. It means that by getting out there, working hard, meeting people, and paying attention to how the world works, anyone can develop the leadership skills needed to succeed in life and business.