Are leaders made or born?

There may be a small percentage of leaders who may be born with individual traits which lend itself to leadership, but leadership itself can be learned, especially by committed individuals who display an interest in doing so.[1]

An analysis of thousands of 360-degree reviews [2], women outscored men on 17 of the 19 capabilities that differentiate excellent leaders from average or poor ones. Two of the traits where women outscored men to the highest degree – taking initiative and driving for results – have long been thought of as particularly male strengths. As it happened, men outscored women significantly on only one management competence in this survey – the ability to develop a strategic perspective.

How do you teach leadership?

How did women get so good at these traits? Are they the result of nurture or nature? Most stereotypes would have us believe that women naturally excel at “nurturing” competencies such as developing others and building relationships. Ann Crittenden wants us to know that leadership training begins at home and female leaders, particularly those who are also mothers, had their skills honed through the parenting experiences.

In her book “If You’ve Raised Kids, You Can Manage Anything,” Ann Crittenden deconstructs the talents and skills needed for successful parenting and compares them to the talents and skills needed to succeed in a variety of professions. Based on interviews with 100 primary caregivers who have also been active in careers in business, law, politics, academia, and nonprofits, the book highlights skills that are directly translatable from parenting to professionalism. It focuses on four categories: multitasking, interpersonal skills, growing human capabilities, and habits of integrity – all the skills that corporations claim to value in their employees.

Paul, the apostle, was another who believed that leadership begins in the home. For each of the churches he planted, Paul needed to appoint ‘elders’ to oversee the respective congregations. He instructed his apprentices, Timothy and Titus, to look for fathers who have proven to be able to “manage his own family well and see that his children obey him”[3] to fill such high stakes positions.

The world is in need of leaders in the 21st century – one that is created in the crucible of life, not a classroom. And if leadership training indeed begins at home, then getting fathers to become involved dads could be the key.

Since the 1970s, the Fathering Movement has helped many fathers to see themselves as more than just the breadwinner of the family, and awakened them to the need to be Involved Fathers. Ample time has passed for an objective evaluation on the impact of involved fathers, not only on children but also on fathers themselves, to be done.

Prior to having children, men recounted that they had been self-centered. Taking responsibility for children, however, places fathers into an imbalanced relationship, where fathers array a greater degree of responsibility than do their children. Thus, for some men, having children and being involved with them was perceived to contribute to a heightened awareness of others’ perspectives, needs, and a generally enhanced sensitivity to others’ emotions. Other fathers discussed a sense of increased empathy and the ability to discern the importance of honouring others’ feelings and perspectives. The net result is that involved dads tend to become other centered, which is a hallmark of maturity [4]

“Since becoming an involved parent I feel I worry a lot less about workplace issues I can’t control. I find it easier to structure things and prioritise tasks.” says Damien Livingston. He says his role as a parent has influenced a change in his approach to work. “I think these days as a manager I act a lot more like a ‘father’ than I would have in the past. I find if I’m looking after the team, the results tend to look after themselves.”[5]

It appears that leadership development is one of the unintended outcomes of the Fathering Movement. Each leader it produces is 15 to 20 years in the making. (Incidentally, a healthy oak sapling may take 15 to 20 years to reach its stage of maturity. But it can take as many as 50 years before an oak produces acorns.) Each embodying a new blend of leadership – one that is self-less, empathetic, patient, wise, compassionate, and more. It is called Fathering Leadership. This is the kairos time.

[1] Justin V Di Giulio. Are leaders made or born? January 2014
[2] Zenger Folkman 2019
[3] First Timothy 3:4 New International Version
[4] Palkovitz, Rob. Involved Fathering and Men’s Adult Development: Provisional Balances. Psychology Press, 2014. P. 71-71
[5] Dads flex to success. Gabe McGrath. Sydney Morning Herald, April 9, 2016

This article is written by Parcsen Loke. He is a husband, father of three, and is currently the Head of Programmes and Development at the Centre for Fathering.