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Are good leaders born or made?

Updated: Sep 16, 2018

This was the first belief that was challenged at the recent event for digital leaders of Birmingham and the Midlands; hosted by Hays and facilitated by Empowering You. CIOs, Heads of IT and Senior Programme Managers got together to discuss the questions: "what makes a good leader?" and "what causes dysfunction in teams?"

We wanted to get diverse views from across the region: different sectors, different generations and share our experiences and beliefs in conversation. At Empowering You we specialise in leadership development programmes and we are curious to see what people think is really needed. There were certainly a few surprises! Not least the title of this blog which challenged whether leadership programmes even work. So what were the findings? Keep reading a little bit longer for a summary..




What makes a good leader?

You can see from the flip chart photo that the group of 20 or so leaders came up with some of the more expected answers. It was in conversation that some interesting points emerged:

  • Managing is about tasks; leadership is more about people

  • 'Commanding' styles are out. Good leaders facilitate and empower others

  • Trust is key - building trust takes time, requiring honesty, transparency and listening skills

The big question soon surfaced: "Are good leaders born or made?". It was clear there were different beliefs and experiences around this topic and I'll highlight a couple:

  • Not every person can become a great leader, but leadership skills can always be enhanced or learnt. So 'unlocking the leadership potential' becomes important (which also requires motivation)

  • The best leadership development courses create sustained behaviour change. Short courses without an integrated coaching programme often fail to embed the new learning and participants quickly fall back into old habits.



What causes dysfunction in teams?

Well, this question uncovered a lot of barriers to effective teamwork:

  • Biases and stereotypes eg. "techies don't have good interpersonal skills"

  • Silos: 'us and them' mentalities

  • Lack of empathy for differences and diverse approaches (I am right!)

One particular observation was discussed at length: the concept of 'teams' is now very different to the old model of a department team with an over-arching boss. Our digital world has changed this dynamic considerably:

  • A team is often transient, coming together for a project that crosses the divide of departments (and even organisations). The reporting lines then become quite complex.

  • The matrix of team members can include remote workers, flexible workers and with a mixture of digital capabilities. Effective communication becomes a major challenge.

  • In this environment, leaders need to be highly emotionally intelligent (ie. very self-aware and demonstrating the qualities we discussed earlier)

Our working world is changing with the rapid advances in digital capability, highlighting the need for a new level of leadership skills. We need leaders who can handle the complex and ever-changing landscape, whilst working hard to coach teams to embrace change.


The greatest leaders will easily adapt to new situations and challenges. Leadership capability can be nurtured at all levels and could now become the main responsibility for leaders in organisations. This will also bring about empowered teams that deliver excellence, and who doesn't want that?


Steve Cliff

Leadership coach and facilitator at Empowering You

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