I wondered recently, “What do leaders think about learning leadership skills?”  I was especially interested in leaders I have observed who seem to have “natural” leadership skills.  In fact, each of the leaders I heard from answered in a way that led me to conclude that leadership skills are a hybrid of native tendencies and learned behavior.

Here is what they had to say…

I think in general that leadership skills can be learned through experience, trial & error, and observation.  However, in order for those skills to take root and be properly applied, I believe people need to have some existing natural qualities, such as an openness to new things, humility, and integrity.  So in that sense there are leadership qualities / traits that predispose someone to learning and developing as a leader more effectively.
Carmen O’Shea, Vice President, SAP Inc.

I think that leadership skills are both natural and learned.  Over the course of my career, there have been many leadership decisions that I’ve made which, with certainty, I know were driven by my natural instincts.  I can also, however, recall many decisions made which were influenced by prior learning experiences that had helped to shape my thinking and outlook.
Dennis Driver, Vice President, Theravance Inc.

Although some leadership and managerial qualities may be deemed innate or natural, developing effective leadership capabilities is an immersion process which involves discovery, increasing self-awareness and continuous learning.   In addition, to be an effective leader one has to practice, be open to feedback and immerse oneself while taking risks to develop career opportunities laterally.  That’s how one grows and becomes an effective leader in an organization.
Marco Rosa, Vice President, MAP Pharmaceuticals, Inc.

I was also interested in hearing from other professionals who teach leaders.

Here is what they said:

The raw materials and predisposition to be a good leader exists in many people, but for most it takes work and discipline to define the chasm between being OK to being a great leader and then doing something about it.  By intent or unexpected circumstances, one’s raw leadership materials come together and have an impact (good or bad).  That impact defines them as a leader and defines their personal roadmap to become more than they started with.
Chris Lawson, Global Director, Change and Organizational Development, SAP Inc.

Some people are inherently better leaders than others.  Can anyone learn the skills to be a better leader?  Absolutely.  The distinction is in how motivated they are to be a great leader and learn the skills.
Jeanne-Marie Grumet, Presentation Skills Trainer and Coach for Executives

Based on the thoughts expressed by the respected leaders quoted above, it would be inaccurate to conclude that great leaders are born, not made.  Rather, the best leaders seem to start with some measure of inborn personality traits and develop them over time. We cannot control what we are born with, yet we can certainly focus on what to learn.

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