What Makes a Leader: Overcoming Challenges

Jaclyn Crawford Foresight, What Makes A Leader? Leave a Comment

According to Larry Mathews, CFO at the Institute for Population Health, leaders are made, not born, and their leadership comes from the situations they face.

WhatMakesaLeader_smallWe have mental images of George Washington crossing the Delaware River, standing up with his foot on the bow of a boat, where he led the Continental Army against the Hessian forces camped in Trenton, New Jersey, on December 25, 1776. Then there is the image of George Patton leading his troops, from the front no less, against the German Army at Bastogne. Then we have Martin Luther King, Jr., leading the Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, march on March 7, 1965, in what has become known as “Bloody Sunday,” facing violent crowds in the name of equality for all people.

What makes a leader? Are leaders born, or are they made? The answer to this question is quite simple.

You have probably heard the comment: “He/She is a born leader.” Why is this comment made about an individual? It is because of some acts that this person did, observed by and participated in by others, which had very positive results—changed mindsets, saved lives, accomplished a major objective.

Notice, the plural: acts. It is not just a one-event thing, but rather many events observed over a period of time. Those who observe this individual had no idea what made this person who they felt is a born leader. They just felt that this was the case. This, however, is not true.

Six Leadership Traits

Leaders are not born. They are made. Their style of leadership is determined by the immediacy and gravity of the challenge they face. According to Robin Benincasa, in her article “6 Leadership Styles and When to Use Them,” there are six leadership styles. They are:

1. Pacesetting leaders who expect and model excellence and self-direction;
2. The authoritative leader who mobilizes a team to a common vision and focuses on goals leaving the means up to individuals;
3. Affiliative leaders who work to create emotional bonds that bring a feeling of togetherness and belonging to the organization;
4. The coaching leader is one who develops people for the future;
5. Coercive leaders demand immediate compliance (e.g., “Do what I tell you to do”); and
6. Democratic leaders build consensus through participation.

A great leader may exhibit all of these styles in a very short period of time depending on the situation. That same great leader, though, will revert back to the style that is predominant when the crisis or project is over.

Think about this for a second, and then use this to categorize the three examples at the beginning of my remarks. What kind of leader was George Washington? As you can see from the above, he probably was considered a pacesetting, authoritative, affiliative and coercive leader. As for George Patton, he was a definite coercive leader who directed the greatest military forces during World War II. We would categorize Martin Luther King, Jr., as an affiliative leader, as he used this style to bring about one of the most significant societal changes in our country’s history.

Finding Your Inner Leader

If you have not taken the DiSC Personality Test, you should make it a point to have your company leadership explore the resource. This is a leadership assessment test that asks a battery of questions; they are evaluated in the same session, normally over a four-hour period, in a group setting. From these answers, your personality is determined to be: D=Dominance; I=Influencing; S=Steadiness; and C=Conscientiousness. This is your leadership trait, and it really is a mind-opening experience.

Leaders are not born. They are made. Every day, you will experience some event that your brain will file away. These events make you who you are, and who you are will determine the kind of leader you will be. You are not born autocratic; something makes you autocratic. You are not born democratic; something makes you democratic. What you must determine is how to use your talents to make yourself the best leader you can be.

Everything that goes into your being makes you the leader you are. Remember to treat others as you wish to be treated. Lead with compassion and focus. ♦


Larry Mathews is Chief Financial Officer at the Institute for Population Health. He was featured in Issue No. 8 of Forefront.

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