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Are leaders born or made? Work diligently, become a leader



By Manish Shah



 If you believe that leadership traits are innate and cannot be developed, you are a person with fixed mindset, according to Carol Dweck, author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. People with fixed mindset avoid challenges, think that making effort is fruitless, consider constructive negative feedback as worthless and feel threatened by the success of others. On the other hand, people with growth mindset believe in personal growth through effort, welcome challenges, are persistent in face of setbacks, consider effort as a worthy price to pay for achieving their goals, consider constructive feedback as a tool for learning and find the success of others as inspiration.


An example of a person had a fixed mindset is Hitler. He believed that Aryans were superior to other races. He felt threatened by people, who challenged this premise and persecuted them. Although he was successful in psychologically manipulating the masses, his fixed mindset approach was in the end, a dismal failure.


Lincoln is an embodiment of a leader with a growth mindset. He did not have a college education, but had a strong belief in constant learning and he taught himself to be a good writer and a great orator. He appointed three people who were his arch rivals in Presidential primaries namely Chase, Seward and Bates to his cabinet. He took this unusual step despite the fact that their experience and education overshadowed his own. His ability to constantly learn and surround himself with people, who were better than him made him one of the greatest Presidents. Great leadership is an act of genius and therefore is rare. Anders Ericsson, who is a professor of psychology at Florida State University, has studied the makings of a genius. His research indicates that innate qualities or talent by themselves do not create geniuses. Ericsson studied a variety of areas including writing, playing music and sports. According to him, the key factors that create geniuses are: supportive environment, good mentoring and sustained effort. Another study performed by the late Benjamin Bloom at the University of Chicago found that it took about a decade of sustained effort for 120 elite performers to attain international recognition. On average, the decade of hard work leading to mastery lasted about 10,000 hours (equates to 3 hours every day for 10 years).



 The sustained effort which Ericsson terms as “deliberate practice” is a process where the performer in any field sets specific incremental goals to better her performance. So how can Ericsson’s findings be applied to a business setting? Business leadership is a set of discrete tasks. These tasks include presenting and selling ideas, managing people, negotiating deals and recruiting. Putting these tasks in the framework of deliberate practice, a leader, who wants to get better, will need feedback and new set of goals to improve performance on an ongoing basis. Let us take the task of negotiating deals as an example. The leader should keep a diary of all the negotiations and periodically go back and analyze what worked and what did not. Based on this feedback, the leader can then set specific goals for performance improvement in future negotiations.


Finally, the most important role of a leader is to develop other leaders within the organization. An effective way of doing that is approaching this task with a growth mindset by providing constructive feedback, setting specific goals for improvement and fostering a culture which sends a message that everyone can reach their potential provided they work diligently.

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