The question of nature or nurture is one that is almost as old as time itself, yet it is still an incredibly relevant one when you place it in a business context. Can you learn to become a great business leader or manager, or is it something that is innately encoded into your genes from the moment you’re born? There are some studies which say that as much as 33% of what makes a good leader can be inherited from parents. However, that leaves two thirds of it up for grabs through training, environmental and societal factors throughout a person’s life.
Let’s break down some of the key traits you need to be a leader, and examine whether they are naturally occurring or learned.
It is certainly true that having smart parents increases the chance of an intelligent offspring, but it is not a hard fact or a rule. Indeed, many talented entrepreneurs and business founders come from backgrounds where their parents worked menial jobs and never showed much interest in academia or intellectual thinking. Regardless of background, elements like critical thinking and developing as an intellectual will all have a bearing on the way someone turns out as an adult; you don’t necessarily have to come from a ‘smart’ background to make a fantastic leader or manager.
There is a certain image of leadership that evokes the idea of an extrovert, someone who loves to be noticed and be the centre of attention at all times. Whilst this is certainly true in some cases (Richard Branson, for example), there are plenty of other leaders who are from a different mould entirely. Bill Gates still seems more comfortable writing code than interacting on a world stage, and Mark Zuckerberg is famously introverted and private. Leadership takes many guises, and the nature or nurture of any given personality type does not make anyone more or less suited to the world of management.
There is no clear evidence to say that the ability to solve problems is a natural skill, but there is undoubtedly evidence to say that early environmental factors like education and schooling will have a bearing on how adept an individual is at problem-solving. It’s thought that those who overcome barriers early on their life will develop the resilience and the attitude needed to be able to solve any problems. Strike one for nurture!
One thing you do want in a leader and a manager is discipline, and an element of control. Famous leader Sir Alex Ferguson famously said in his recent autobiography, “Power is useful if you want to use it, but control was my aim”. The famous manager recognises that control and discipline is crucial to managing and leading large groups of people. Research suggests that the ability to be self-controlled and to be disciplined enough to run a business is one which is half nature, half nurture, and is something that can be learned over a period of time.
So, the results are in. Whilst nature does seem to have a hand in certain elements of leadership, many traits associated with being a manager can be learned through hard work and experience. Try out a business mentoring course or employ a coach to help you decipher whether you have what it takes to be a leader in this world of business.