I’m looking forward to this week’s IMC conference in Bonita Springs, Florida.  The conference always has a large number of Great Leaders to rub elbows with and after a few days you can’t help but walk away inspired to lead your team into the New Year.

I read an article on Leadership that was attached to a LinkedIn update last week.  It was one of those that posed the question; Is Leadership a trait you are born with, or a skill that you learn. I have to say I find these kinds of questions intriguing because regardless of which side of the argument you take, someone else could give a good argument for the opposite.  So let me start with the definition of the word leader.

Leader – a person who is in charge or command of others.

It’s a simple word really, anyone can be put in charge or command of others so to me it’s quite clear you don’t have to be anyone special to become a leader.  I have worked for some leaders who were anything but special, someone however put them in a position to lead others so he or she therefore became a leader.  I think it would be safe to say however most of the leaders I worked for were followers; they had no idea where we were going but were very good at regurgitating a flawed message.  So while they were put in the position of leadership they instead elected to follow.  Following is easy really, just repeat what your leader says, tell the people you have been charged to lead that your leaders are really smart and that while it might look like we are going in the wrong direction our leaders know better.

Once you have worked for a follower, the term leader doesn’t seem as simple anymore.  It’s a word that needs qualifiers because putting someone in a position of leadership doesn’t guarantee that they will be a leader.  A leader after all is a person who is in charge or command of others, leaders set direction, they have a unique vision what they want to do and what needs to be done to achieve that goal.


So let me qualify the word leader with the adjective “great”.

Great Leader

This apparently would be someone who is great at being in charge or command of others.  I have worked for and with some great leaders.  What separated them from the other leaders who were actually followers is the great leaders weren’t afraid to set direction, even if it changed the status quo.  The great leaders had the confidence to say things like “Lean manufacturing works, but unless we become reliable first we will struggle at being successful.”  Turns out great leaders understand that if you want people to respect you and commit to your vision you have to stick up for what you believe in.  When something doesn’t make sense great leaders push back because they understand that if those they are leading can sense a mirage continuing on causes them to lose confidence.  Great leaders you see understand they must have the confidence and respect of those they lead.

Turns out a leaders success depends not only on their ability to be in command or control, great leaders know the importance of gaining trust and respect.

Trust and Respect, another set of words that get thrown around a lot and while it seems simple to say that Great Leaders have the trust and respect of those they lead, earning trust and respect is really what separates the Great Leaders from the rest of the population.  Truly great leaders understand that trust and respect don’t come with a certificate, training program, Ivy League Education or College Diploma. Trust and respect come from hard work, being the first one to work, putting in long hours when its important, reinforcing those who are working towards the goal and disciplining those who are dragging their heels and slowing the team down.  These traits of great leaders are the ones that can’t be taught. These are traits that are nurtured from childhood; they come from Mom and Dad, and from close family role models.  A drive to succeed that doesn’t believe in words like; you can’t, you don’t, failure, not possible or impossible.

This type of leader laughs at the constraints others put on themselves as they wait to become successful; “Once I finish my MBA and get promoted to site manager I should then have enough contacts to venture out and start my own business.”

The list of great leaders who somehow made it without a formal education is endless; Ray Kroc, Ben Franklin, Abe Lincoln, Michael Dell, Steve Wozniak, Thomas Edison, Walt Disney,  Steve Jobs, Mark Zukerberg, Winston Churchill, George Eastman, Henry Ford, Bill Gates, Ralph Lauren, Ted Turner, Rush Limbaugh, Paul Allen, Wally Amos, Dave Thomas, Warren Buffett*, James Cameron, Tom Plucknette, Andrew Carnegie, James Clarke, George Washington, Charles Culpeper, David Filo – This list could go on for pages and as it stand now you may have already looked a few up to check on the facts. Every single person on this list had four things in common:

  1. The each had an idea or several ideas
  2. They each had a drive to be successful
  3. Each is known as a great leader
  4. Each became a leader without a formal education


So, no I don’t believe leaders are trained or educated, I believe they are inspired to make something new or better and confident in their own ability to do so.  I would wager that most don’t use alarm clocks or give up the first, second, or third time something doesn’t work the way they expect it will.  Their ability to lead come from their own drive to achieve a goal, if that goal requires the help of two people or twenty thousand people they learn to adapt themselves to gain the confidence of others.

Great leaders demand simple things from the people they lead; and honest day’s work, a work place that promotes a free flow of ideas, and honest answers to tough questions. “Does the product work as well as it should?  Is the customer happy with the product?”  Great leaders know that while honesty isn’t always the answer you want to hear, it’s the answer that makes our products better, our customers happier and our workforce confident.

Last but not least, if you still believe that great leadership come from learning, through some type of formal education, I present Washington D.C., our Nation’s Capital a place filled with Learned Leaders, Senators, Congressmen, Lobbyists, Lawyers and Judges.  A place so full of highly educated people that one would think that all of these smart people working in the same city that surely they could at least solve some of our most simple problems.  All that education, there must be hundreds of thousands of ideas yet not one single person has emerged as a true leader.

In closing once again I go to the master Albert Einstein who said “The only thing that interferes with my learning is my education.”

Looking forward to seeing some of my favorite leaders this week and meeting a few new one’s as well!

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