“The ability to learn is the most important quality a leader can have.” — Sheryl Sandberg
According to Erika Andersen, founding partner of Proteus International, the question she most commonly receives when doing seminars on leadership is: “Are leaders born or made?” She believes that most of the interviewers that pose this question believe they already know the answer and conclude that most people would argue and believe that leaders are born.
I do not dispute the idea that some people are born with an innate ability to lead, but I do believe leadership is learned. Since the 1960s, leadership scholars have conducted more than one thousand studies in an attempt to determine the definitive styles, characteristics, or personality traits of great leaders. None of the studies have produced a clear profile of an ideal leader.
Mrs. Andersen states, “What I’ve learned by observing thousands of people in business over the past 30 years, though, is that – like most things – leadership capability falls along a bell curve.” She believes too that people are born with this ability to naturally lead, but that for the majority of people that fall into the middle section of the bell curve, leadership can be learned.
This idea is based on leadership in general. Global Leadership, on the other hand, creates a whole new challenge. Those who are “born” leaders are not able to successfully lead a multicultural team without learning specific values and skills related to the team they will be leading. Meena Surie Wilson, in her book on corporate India, states, “Aspiring leaders must learn continuously, which is why there is so much power in learning to learn from experience.” This applies to political and business leaders. Mark Dankberg summarized a quality every global business leader should possess: “Empathy—the ability to understand whoever it is you are dealing with.”
Some people are born with a more natural ability to lead than others, but having this ability alone will not make someone a successful global leader. Becoming a successful global leader is a skill that must be learned. To learn this skill leaders must become self aware, show empathy and humility, and be willing to listen.