Leadership Series 1 Overview: Are Leaders Born or Made?

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It’s a question that might not be as bluntly vocalized these days but let me tell you… it is on leaders’ minds. It has occupied EVERY LEADER’S thoughts at some point in their careers.

More commonly heard, is the nagging subconscious question of:

“Do I have what it takes?

In this episode, the Stand Up Retail team decided to come at the question from a new point of view – Self-Doubt. As a leader, you encounter doubt in many ways and quite often. External doubt from the teams you lead, the supervisors you report to, the customers you ultimately serve and even the communities your company operates in. All of that external doubt that we work so hard to counter with our actions, compassion and commitment to change, can snowball into a sense of a creeping SELF-DOUBT. We begin to validate the idea that we are not able to overcome the challenges we’re currently facing or perhaps are not even capable of executing the position we hold at all.

This self doubt can be toxic, can cripple a leader and sometimes can stall even the best leaders on their career path.

And the questions keep popping up in the back of our minds: Are we good enough? Can we do the job? What if we DON’T actually have what it takes to be a great leader? For our team, our community, our organization?

This episode came about as a means to dissect the argument that some people just CANNOT be good leaders because they ‘don’t have what it takes.’

Let’s dig in!

Historical and Psychological Overview of the Debate

There are decades of research (both surrounding the biology and psychology) into what makes a great leader. Most of us don’t dig that deep into the studies when facing our own self-doubt, but fall back on comparisons, experiences or educational learnings when we find ourselves doubting our ability to lead, and that is the framing of this section of the episode.

How do we LEARN about great leaders? How do we ASSIGN the traits and requirements (mental and yes, even physical) that are needed to become one?

In truth, it starts at a very young age. We all can think back to our formative years, even as a very young child, and look to how we viewed great leaders. From the 5-year-old wanting to become a fireman or an astronaut, or even Captain America or Joan of Arc, our early ideals of great leadership come from the concept of a ‘hero as leader’.

Photo by Roy Reyna on Pexels.com

While as children we don’t know, but this idealization has historical and well researched roots. It’s most easily seen in the work of Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881) and is called The Great Man Theory of Leadership. In his work “On Heroes, Hero-Worship and The Heroic in History” he presented his argument that the actions of the “Great Man” played the key role in history, stating that ‘”the history of the world is but the biography of great men.” (Wiki) What is implied through this theory (if not outright stated in some of Mr. Carlyle’s talks and work) is that these traits are BORN into certain people who, through their heroic actions have been chosen, blessed or just outright destined. Some people just ‘have it’. History is written by the winners (and the winners ‘greatness’ is often framed by their accomplishments versus the traits that helped them accomplish them.)

In Part 1 of our Leadership Series, we discuss the impact of how we grow up learning about leaders throughout history (via a traditional school curriculum, which in the case of the hosts is the American public school system). We dig into how focusing on the hero, and the resulting hero-worship, can often distort a person’s perception of what it means to be a great leader. We examine the potential impacts of the natural human urge to compare ourselves to others when determining our own potential (and even worth) and how that can create crippling doubt when a person measures themselves against the traits of those ‘heroes of history’.

While The Great Man Theory was held at the forefront of studies for many years, it did begin to fall out of favor in the early 1900’s, giving way to more detailed studies by psychologists and geneticists and leading to the current theory: Trait Theory. Understanding that leadership is nuanced, and skill/effectiveness is built through experience and learned skills, has led those who study leadership to see that at BEST, one third of leadership traits may be ‘born’ or initially inherent within a person, and the other TWO THIRDS of these skills and traits are learned. (Click here to listen to Part 1)

The 3 traits that are predominantly believed to be ‘born in’ are: a beginning level of Extraversion (or ability to be bold or outspoken), Intelligence (there are MANY types of intelligence, but for the sake of this episode, we tackle traditional ‘book smarts’ and ‘social/emotional intelligence’ as the primary born in trait), and finally some level of Empathy (or the ability to relate to others).

Head over to our PODCAST EPISODE to listen to the entire discussion!

So if 2/3rds of leadership skill is learned, should we allow those 3 unlearned traits determine our effectiveness?

In Part 2 of our series, we tackle the most common ‘born in’ traits that people self-identify as: Introverts or Extraverts.


The impact of these two personality traits on leadership is LARGE, but neither one will make you a BETTER LEADER. In fact, a great leader knows how to activate the best of each of these traits as needed, for their teams and their personal/organization’s goals.

A quick definition of each:

Introversion is defined as the quality of being shy and reticent; or in psychological terms: the tendency to be concerned with one’s own thoughts and feelings rather than with external things. (Source: Dictionary.com)

Extraversion is defined as the state or tendency towards being predominantly concerned with and obtaining gratification from what is outside of the self.

The two terms were first coined by Carl Jung in the early 1900’s to describe traits that focus a person’s energy on either the internal or external world. (Source: Meriam-Webster.com)

There are benefits and risks to both of these personality traits, and we discuss them at length at the beginning of Part 2 (or at the 26 minute mark in the full podcast HERE).

5 Common Leadership Scenarios, and How Introverts and Extraverts Approach Them

The second half of Part 2 of our Episode (or the 37 min mark of the Podcast HERE) starts our deep dive into how this more commonly thought of ‘born in trait’ of introversion or extraversion can impact a leader.

As we state initially, the 3 most likely ‘born in’ traits are truly just starting points and are not fixed.

Just because you struggle to be BOLD and ASSERTIVE, does not mean you are a less effective leader, however it might be a reason why you doubt your skill. It could be impacting your success if you don’t recognize the need to find ways to be more outspoken.

Conversely, being an extravert might make certain aspects of leadership easier for you, but it most definitely does NOT make you a BETTER leader. Chances are there are introverted skills you struggle with that might be impacting your success and creating doubt in your abilities as well.

Here are the 5 Scenarios that we discuss:

  1. People Interactions (both internal within the workplace and external if you also work with clients/public)
  2. Volunteering (or the act of participating in the workplace)
  3. Daily Scheduling (both for self and for your team)
  4. Planning (both for self and as a leader for your team)
  5. Socializing (or the relationship building process as a leader)

The discussion is very deep on each of these topics, so head over to watch Part 2 and Part 3 of our Leadership Series 1 (the videos are sectioned into chapters to allow you to skip to each scenario as you please) or listen HERE from the 37-minute mark on!

In short, leadership is not an ability that is genetically gifted to a person at birth, nor is it100% a group of learned skills. There is a beautiful blending of personal intrinsic traits, experiences and learned skills that create impactful, effective, inspirational and downright amazing leaders.

The spectrum is BROAD, friends.

Pushing through the doubt that creeps into your thoughts can feel impossible, especially if you are getting feedback from your team or boss that leads you to feel that they have doubts in you themselves… BUT understanding that you CAN be great, that you CAN learn your way out of a slump is a POWERFUL leadership lesson.

And one that we felt was worthy of a rich, deep and lengthy discussion.

Drop a comment below and let us know how you tackle self-doubt and push through.

Till next time!

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