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Leadership is a Personality: A Natural Gift or a Cultivated Skill?

Innate or acquired? Born or made? The age-old debate with a seemingly easy answer...Yes, and Yes!! While I may not be one of the "scholarly" academics who have debated this question for years, I will contend from years of experience and study, that while no 'genetic code' has been identified to date that reveals a great leader, there are just some people who thoroughly lack the natural capacities to be one. In truth, practically anyone can be a leader for someone. Yet, the diversity of values, cultural beliefs, and experiences found within any team or group is what creates the myriad of challenges that separate managers from leaders. The heart of the matter, and the true essence of leadership, is finding someone who can lead ANYONE despite these challenges!

The hallmark of an effective leader is the capacity to attract followers through influence and inspiration. Such leaders excel in fostering creativity, building trust, instilling confidence, and maximizing individual potential. The days of the authoritarian "do as I say, not as I do" (positional power) approach are long gone, as are the days colleagues and team members are willing to work with or for such a leader. Today's professional environment demands leadership that champions individuality, flexibility, personal growth, engagement, care, and strong relationships.

Effective communication is a critical aspect of a leader's ability to influence and inspire. This includes not only conveying messages clearly but also (and at times more important) actively listening in a manner that resonates with the audience. Leaders who are disengaged, unaware, uninterested, or lack understanding of the business may implement organizational initiatives that are unnecessary and ineffective, as they fail to grasp the team's needs. Additionally, leaders who are intolerant, assumptive, inflexible, or poor listeners struggle to establish a connection with their followers, resulting in a team that is reluctant to communicate with them. True leadership stems from character, passion, tolerance, and a personality that genuinely seeks to understand and connect with individuals; this is where influence and inspiration start.

To illustrate effective communication, consider a candy jar containing various types of candy. If the candy jar is mine, and 90% of it is filled with my favorite candy, and 10% with a variety of other candy...If I blindly grab from my candy jar to offer a piece to someone, the probability is that I will grab one that is my favorite. But what if it's the least favorite to the person I'm offering it to? They won't want it! Effective leadership requires understanding what the follower likes and being intentional about taking that from your candy jar and offering it. People don't accept what they don't want. Effective leadership means ensuring that what you give to others is done so in a way they will accept it. Which often means we have to put aside our own preferences, thoughts, and perceptions for a time.

The term "personality" comes from the Latin word "persona," encompassing social, motivational, emotional, and experiential aspects of individuals. It refers to the enduring traits and patterns that influence a person's thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors. The leadership's paradox lies in understanding oneself and guiding team members to respect and appreciate the unique traits each person contributes, thereby fostering open communication and sustained influence. A leader does this through being the example of it...respecting and appreciating differences of thoughts, behaviors, and experiences. As a leader, you communicate, both verbally and non-verbally, with various personalities and, in the process, you reflect your own. If your personality is not one received well from those around you, your ability to influence and inspire is negligible.

While everyone's personality is capable of leading someone, leading everyone requires a personality that embraces and tolerates differing traits. Being intentional in one's communication practices, offering others what they need in a way they are willing to accept, IS the art of leadership. Ensuring others hear what you say, because you have offered it in a way they want to accept it, defines the transition between being a manager and being a leader.

In conclusion, leadership is a blend of traits that create one's personality, further cultivated and enhanced through the intentionality of learning and experience. It's about harnessing one's unique personality to connect, inspire, and guide others, while also respecting and adapting to the myriad personalities encountered along the way. True, effective leadership is less about commanding and more about communicating, understanding, and adapting.

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