Are Leaders Born or Can They Be Made?

SAP Talent Marketing

school of fish

By Deb Stambaugh, Senior Director, Talent Marketing, SAP Marketing 

Depending on who you talk to, the term leader or leadership can conjure up a variety of definitions.

If you don’t mind indulging an Art History major undergrad and marketer by trade for a moment to make a mathematical analogy … for some it is a simple equation:

You are responsible for managing people = You are a leader

For others the equation is much more complex:

Management of people or an area of expertise + behaviors like humility and agility + mindsets like emotional and inclusive intelligence + capacity for innovative thinking / ability to allow your ‘employees’ to lead  – fear of failure x corporate culture = Leadership

Why is the more complex equation more prevalent today? With major shifts in our environment from new generations of workers coming into the workforce, with a new set of expectations around collaboration and focus on a common good, to the rise of knowledge workers, to our own acquisition strategy, the world around us is changing. Success requires the ability to innovate – better, faster, and together – and the ability to learn, unlearn, and relearn.

The major challenge is that often-times that “culture” hasn’t been built or adopted to enable our managers to act as leaders. According to Roland Deiser in a recent paper “Building Towers of Babel?” many corporations do this by creating corporate universities (CU’s). Oftentimes those CU’s set out with the ambition to foster strategic and organizational learning and to create an agile and resilient corporation, only to give in when facing the massive challenge of changing mental models and overcoming political resistance1.

An interesting concept comes from EnBW Academy, founded in 2000, as the corporate learning platform for a regional German utility player. Their strategy to overcome corporate politics and mindsets was to include change management as a critical element of their learning process. The Academy became instrumental in developing a new shared vision for the company by facilitating workshops with hundreds of stakeholders.

So what do I think? Born or made? Born – absolutely. Made – entirely possible. Going back to my fuzzy math…

1 Developing Leaders, Issue 9:2012, “Building Towers of Babel”, Roland Deiser


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