Today's President's Day holiday got me to thinking about leadership. Is leadership an inborn trait, can it be learned, does everyone have leadership tendencies?
Were all our U.S. Presidents genuine leaders? For sure, genuine leadership is far more than just "leading". Whether it is helming a country, managing an organization or heading a family, it is an amalgam of positive characteristics and qualities necessary to lead, an aura of authenticity and strong self-esteem coupled with honest humility that reveals human frailties.
If you are already in a leadership position or aspire to that role, see if there are any similarities between the current YOU or the YOU you are endeavoring to be.
George Washington was a stirring military commander who was an inspiration to his war-weary troops and set the nation on a road to distinction and greatness. George also had a canny enterprising spirit and was an inventive farmer who pioneered animal breeding - sort of the agricultural Jeff Bezos or Mark Zuckerberg of his day. Washington was in a class by himself. Indeed, the Constitution was written with him in mind and it was naturally taken for granted that he would be the nation's first President. Thomas Jefferson told him "We cannot, Sir, do without you." With all this, he was not the greatest thinker and had no formal education; yet, he became one of our greatest Presidents. A major reason was that he was a true non-partisan who commanded the respect and trust of all. GW's contributions to America were rooted in his steadfast character - valor, honesty, vision. All traits of a strong leader.
Abraham Lincoln was considered one of our greatest Presidents. He owned an amazingly empathetic facility for putting himself in others' shoes - understanding their needs, their drives and their desires. He also demonstrated a desire to keep learning and never failed to give or share credit for a job well-done. In her writings, Doris Kearns Goodwin tells us that Lincoln stated "the path to success and ambition is broad enough for two" He respected others enough to listen and take their advice and appointed only the best and the brightest to his Cabinet - interestingly, some were his leading political rivals. Strong leaders are willing to learn on the job, recognize great work in others and are open to intelligent viewpoints and good ideas no matter whom they come from. True confidence and sagacity, indeed.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt
Franklin Delano Roosevelt was another great U.S. President. His famous declaration, "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself", inspired a country that was staggering from a profound economic depression. His composed demeanor during those grim years helped him, not only to successfully lead the nation, but to effectively unite a frightened populace. People gathered around their radios in unprecedented numbers to listen to FDR's "fireside chats". Those national broadcasts highlighted this President's ability to communicate and inspire the country. Strong leaders are calm - particularly under fire - they are great communicators and possess the ability to deal with organizational bureaucracy while still meeting their teams' needs.
John F. Kennedy
John F. Kennedy was a charming and charismatic visionary who considered himself the spokesperson for the "silent majority" and believed in the importance of understanding the people he was leading. He believed that his administration, in many ways, would be perceived based on how well they addressed personal hopes while inspiring "new horizons of ambition and achievement." Leaders encourage innovation, inspire new ideas and share their vision.
Since 1789, we have had some great Presidents and some clunkers. For sure, many more outstanding Presidents can be added to this list. If you have ideas on others we should highlight, please share them with me.
To answer my original questions - Is leadership an inborn trait? Yes, leadership can be an intrinsic trait.
Does everyone have leadership tendencies? Not everyone has leadership tendencies; some people have a low need to control and manage and prefer being directed.
Nevertheless, even if it's not in your DNA, leadership can be learned; albeit more difficult for those without this innate characteristic, but certainly achievable. What matters is the individual's desire and willingness to improve or acquire these skills and the motivation to maintain them. Don't forget, if we try to operate outside our comfort zone, we need to be motivated or, like a rubber band, once we are stretched too far, we will snap and revert back to our true selves.
Meanwhile, the next time you are searching for the leader within you or striving to refine your own distinctive leadership style; perhaps, look to the wisdom and management style of the people who guided the United States of America for over two centuries. There are many wonderful lessons for all of us to study and learn.
Jan Vincent is the President and CEO of JV Consulting Human Asset Management, a NYC-based management consulting firm that specializes in helping business owners select, hire, develop and manage talent. Jan welcomes your comments and questions. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 347.613.6432.