Why Great Leaders Are Made, Not Born
The debate over whether great leaders are made, or born, has gone on for ages. Stewart Friedman, the founding director of the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project, says he has the definitive answer.
In his newest book, Leading the Life You Want, Friedman explores the skills you need to be a leader, how to develop them, and how to devote your life to your work without losing everything that’s important to you. His research has led him to conclude that people are not born to be great leaders.
“One of the myths that I am trying to bust … is that you are born with this capacity to be great. Not true. It is a matter of, yes, skill. There is a lot of luck. But there is also persistence, discipline, passion, and courage to pursue that which is most important to you and to the people around you,” Friedman tells Jeffrey Klein, executive director of the Wharton Leadership Program, in an interview for the business school’s blog Knowledge@Wharton.
Friedman profiles luminaries including Michelle Obama, Bruce Springsteen, and Sheryl Sandberg in his book and shows how they gradually became leaders. He shows the skills they exercised and how they integrate different parts of their life together.
Friedman says he chose subjects who possess what he calls the three principles of total leadership: “Being real, acting with authenticity and knowing your values and vision; being whole, respecting the whole person and knowing there are different parts of your work, community, and personal lives that affect each other; and being innovative, constantly learning and experimenting in new ways to get things done.”
When it comes down leading the life you want, Friedman says you first must “discover what is uniquely you.” You need to harness your passions, interests, and skills and make them valuable for other people.
Below, check out how Michelle Obama leverages the three principles of leadership–being real, being whole, and being innovative–without letting her responsibilities control her life.
Align values and actions
The first skill our first lady displays is “her capacity to align her actions with her values,” Friedman writes. Michelle Obama asks herself on a regular basis, “If what you are doing does not bring you joy every single day, what is the point?” Friedman says the question is a good exercise to figure out if you’re leading the life that you want to be. This question is followed by action–you need to figure out what matters most to you and pivot, change your focus, or go the other direction if necessary.
Manage life’s boundaries
The second skill Obama exhibits is “managing boundaries intelligently,” Friedman writes. As the first lady, she is a political leader, a wife, and a mother to two young daughters. All of these roles are in the public eye, but they’re also private, personal responsibilities. To integrate her work and life successfully, Friedman says, Obama uses boundaries that keep space between different parts of her life. “Even under the white-hot scrutiny of the entire world, [she was able] to figure out, how am I going to bring the different parts of my life together in a way that works not just for me, but for my children,” he says.
Friedman explains that every leader needs to practice keeping up their boundaries–some that are impermeable and others that are porous. The impermeable ones are erected during times of focus, when you say, “I can’t do anything else, and this is the only thing I am going to do right now.” The permeable boundaries are used in times when you need to “allow different parts of your life to come together in ways that are mutually enriching,” he says.
Michelle Obama’s third skill is how she can “embrace change courageously,” Friedman says. Every leader needs to learn how to accept and adapt to changes. “This is a woman who has made some really difficult decisions to try new things that put her in a zone that was anything but comfortable, in pursuit of her core values and living them in a way that she learned from her father,” he says.
Editor’s Note: This article and image are by Inc. Magazine. They were originally published at www.inc.com.
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