Let's put this to bed––leaders are made, not born


This post was adapted from my earlier book, THINK Like a BLACK BELT, and was first published in 2014 on one of my other blogs. This is an early look at the philosophy and strategy that would become SENSEI LEADERSHIP

Are leaders made or are they born?

Psychologists and philosophers have been debating this puzzle forever and they’re no closer to a resolution today than in the days of Lao Tzu or Socrates.

Some leaders do seem naturally born into the role. I’d argue that in most cases these guys didn’t lick it from a rock…

John F. Kennedy is quite often cited as an example of a natural born leader, but from his earliest years his father Joseph trained and groomed him to become a leader. He was given every opportunity to develop his leadership skills; to his credit, he took full advantage of these opportunities.

Other leaders seem to emerge from necessity out of extraordinary circumstances and conditions…

Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. both professed to be reluctant leaders. Neither man sought the mantle of leadership, or certainly not the circus that goes along with it. Both these men talk about moments in their lives when they faced a moment of truth; would they stand up for what they thought was right or would they walk away and try to live ordinary lives?

Neither man realized at the time what he might be getting into. Both accepted leadership roles that would ultimately shape and define their lives, in addition to changing the lives of millions of followers.

Leadership is often a choice…

Each of us faces this choice from time to time. Sometimes walking away is the right decision. If your call to leadership doesn’t match up to your skill set, you might have to pass; or dedicate yourself to a crash course in whatever skills you’ll need!

One of my heroes, and an excellent example of true leadership, is Joshua Chamberlain…

I live a couple of blocks from the house he occupied when he felt the call of leadership and left a very comfortable teaching post at Bowdoin College to petition for a commission in the Union Army. There is still a lot of political and historical debate about the root causes of the Civil War; Chamberlain had no such ambiguity. He felt compelled to serve the cause of preserving a United States and ending slavery.

Chamberlain was given a commission with the famous 20th Maine Regiment, heroes of Little Round Top at the Battle of Gettysburg. After returning home to let his wife in on his plans, Chamberlain set off to join the war. (Apparently these things were handled much differently in the 19th century!) The problem was that like many officers appointed politically, or by necessity, Chamberlain had absolutely no military experience. He was a professor of rhetoric and natural theology.

So, the only man in United States history to be promoted to general on the field of battle started his military career as an officer with no more knowledge or experience than a common draftee on the day he reports to camp.

He was, however, a consummate student and a wonderful example of someone with Black Belt Mindset. He hit the books, literally, and trained with his Colonel Ambrose, a West Pointer, on the way to his first post. He would become one of the most effective and respected leaders in U.S. military history.

The reason Chamberlain is a hero of mine is his unwavering commitment to self-perfection.

He saw the challenge and set to work to make himself worthy of the challenge. He integrated his skills and talents as a teacher with those of an effective military strategist; where he saw himself lacking he simply made the decision to improve.

Leadership, like all characteristics of Black Belt Mindset, starts with a decision.

  • Are you willing to train?

  • Are you willing to sacrifice?

  • Are you willing to give your wisdom, compassion and courage unconditionally?

  • Are you willing to put the needs of your followers ahead of your own?

  • Are you willing to become the leader you’d be most willing to follow?

Are you willing to lead by example?

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