Are you a leader or a dinosaur?
During my studies at Duquesne University, I remember the old disputes we had about whether “leaders were born or were made.” Our discussions were insightful and always lively. Our views often ranged from one end of the spectrum to the other. A large cup of coffee, a notepad, and an open mind were some of the things she always brought to class.
Are leaders born with particular genetic traits or are they shaped by their environment? That is the question. Figuratively speaking, we start out as “soft clay.” And over time, we are shaped and shaped by many different experiences. Over time, we stay fixed in place like a lump of hard clay.
But it doesn’t stop there, because a person’s education also has an impact. Just as a good cook adds different ingredients to prepare a meal, leaders are made in the same way. They come across all kinds of experiences, both good and bad. These events shape them in different ways. Even the customs of a big city can shape a leader. Pittsburgh was once known as the “City of Steel”. It was like a big dinosaur that could wag its tail and make the contestants run.
As competition increased, Steel City lost its arrogance. It was cheaper to order steel from Japan than from the plant across the river. Clearly, the steel industry was changing, and Pittsburgh had to change as well. If we didn’t, the city would literally go extinct like a dinosaur. Today, Pittsburgh is a symbol of transformation. It’s green and green, a leader in healthcare, and known for its cutting-edge technology.
So what is the connection between Steel City, dinosaurs, and modern leadership? Well, the old leadership model was very simple. Managers used to say, “I’m the boss, it’s my way or the highway.” They were like dinosaurs. But over the last decade, I’ve seen a transformation happen. Our workforce began to change. The demand for leaders increased as our need for managers waned. A younger and more educated generation entered the scene. And the old model of leadership became a thing of the past.
In most organizations, the days of absolute power are long gone. Because the source of power has changed drastically. Businesses are smarter and recognize the benefits of leveraging their human assets. Organizations have become flatter to achieve faster results. In other words, the speed at which you can bring a product to market determines success, provided, of course, that the product is of high quality.
Today, leaders must be visionary and open to new ideas. They must also understand that good ideas sometimes come from the bottom up and not necessarily from the top down. It is about optimizing resources and differentiating the market. Leaders must be resilient. It is essential that they have the ability to recover.
Speaking of resilience, he was about as pathetic a baseball player as you can imagine. In little league, I once made all three outs in the same inning. We beat the opposing team 45-0. As expected, the coach removed me from the team. I was very disappointed in my performance and kept practicing on my own. Despite being excluded from the team, he would show up every day to watch them practice.
The head coach said, “Isn’t that the guy we cut off last week?” Yeah, said the other coach, that’s the guy. He is here every day before everyone else. The head coach said, “Really, well, if the boy persists, give him a uniform and put him on the bench.” At the end of the summer, he was a star player with a great batting average. This is my point; If you want to be an effective leader, you must be able to bounce back.
Sometimes we are victims of our past. I remember another situation, when a boy described how he asked a manager for help on a project. The manager’s lip started to tremble, his eyes turned beet red and he yelled “I gave you all the help you’re going to get, now make it happen!” Needless to say, that poor fellow was convinced that his manager was a born tyrant. It made him cynical. But sadder still, this guy was her mentor. And he had acquired some of the same traits. He had also become a tyrant.
He was convinced that a strong leader had to “hit some heads” to earn respect. A few years later, I saw him on the street. He said, “I learned a lesson the hard way. I was fired. My tough attitude got me into trouble.” Basically, he tried to hold on to some primitive forms in changing times. More importantly, he tried to maintain his respect as a leader, but he couldn’t.
I said, it’s up to you to change that image. Don’t become a victim of your past. You can still grow as a leader. Admit your faults and apologize to the people you offended. Don’t let the ghosts of your past haunt you. I further explained how leaders must be resilient. They need to be able to recover. Learn from your mistakes. You don’t have to be a manager to be a leader, I said. However, you should treat people with respect and speak to them with dignity. Give others the same courtesy you want. Remember, the dinosaur is extinct … and so are its forms.
Bottom line; “Leaders are made, not born!” They are shaped by your experiences, both good and bad. They are tough and capable of bouncing back. Unlike the dinosaur, effective leaders learn from their mistakes. Stay flexible, be open to change, and be a continuous learner.