Being a Leader vs. Leadership Performance

During the last week we had a class discussion on the topic of leadership. We talked about the sources of leadership traits and different styles of leadership. To me, this has always been a very interesting and important topic and thus, I’ve chosen to write this blog entry around that particular class session.

Unlike other texts and unlike my first blog entry, this text won’t cover a specific question. It will rather be a potpourri of my own opinion on the class discussion, self-reflection and additional input from research. In the end, it might not be interesting for an outside-person to read, however, I hope that it will help me personally – to have a clearer idea of leadership and if leadership is something I should/can work on.

In class, we started off by talking about whether leadership is born or made. This discussion is extremely important for me, as it has direct implications on my attitude (not only) in my professional life: Should I work with what I’ve got? Or should I invest my efforts into becoming a better leader?

My opinion has always been that 70% of leadership is born (if fostered) and 30% can be acquired. People who are extraverts and intelligent tend to fit better into a leadership role. However, as I am not an extravert that has often conveyed to me that I cannot show the same leading qualities as more extrovert people around me. The correlation between extraversion and intelligence, and “leading behavior” has been confirmed by research. That alone seems to confirm the “bad news” – that I might not be suitable for leading roles. However, as I digged deeper into articles, I came across a very interesting finding by leadership researcher Connson Chou Locke that was published by the Harvard Business Review. In the article titled “Asking whether leaders are born or made is the wrong question”, Locke claimed that the people that show leadership traits are not necessarily the ones who excel in formal leadership roles. That, he says, is a totally different question. He differentiates between the “leadership performance” in leading roles, and the emergence of a leader within a peer group. Just because extravert people tend to be the leader of a peer group, and I do not tend to be the leader of a peer group, they are not better or equally well performing as leaders in a formal role.

What I take from this is that my perception, that extrovert and intelligent people tend be leaders, is not wrong. In fact it is true: They do tend to be leaders. But I should not derive that I (just because I don’t show typical traits) can hence not excel in a position of leadership. And in the same way, leadership positions should not be awarded to someone who is showing a charismatic, open, extravert personality (“Seems like a good leader”). Because that might not make him a leader after all.



Locke, Connson Chou (2014):

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