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Last Updated: Monday, 8 October 2007, 23:12 GMT 00:12 UK
Can leadership skills be learnt?
Richard Branson
Was Richard Branson born with his leadership skills?
To grow any small business you need to be a good leader.

No matter how excellent your product, your business isn't going to expand unless you can inspire your employees and drive your company forward.

But are such leadership qualities something you are born with - or without? Or can they be learnt?

London Business School's Nigel Nicholson takes a closer look at the issue.

QUESTION
Ivano Assenza
Do you think leaders are born or made? And do you think it's possible to create leaders within a company?

ANSWER
Nigel Nicholson, London Business School
This is an evergreen question that is still hotly debated. My position is as follows.

The most important prerequisite is a desire to lead, and there are three kinds of people:

  • People who have a strong drive to lead, and often don't care too much what kind of circumstance they lead in.
  • People who never want to be leaders - they have other ambitions and interests.
  • People who are prepared to be leaders, but only under specific circumstances.
  • Most of us are in the third group, while the first group is the smallest.

    Group two is larger, and actually includes some people who could be quite good leaders if they wanted to.

    A lot of the drive to lead is underpinned by inherited genes.

    However, the real question you are asking is about effectiveness.

    Wanting to lead is not enough - you have to have the capability.

    This means being the right person doing the right things in the right place.

    The key to effectiveness is:

    a) correctly reading the situation you are in and what behaviours it requires

    b) being willing and able to do what needs to be done.

    Most leaders fail firstly because they don't read the situation well, and especially how it changes; and secondly, because their personality, values, and abilities make them unwilling or unable to do what needs to be done.

    Organisational politics often governs point a). But point b) is down to what sort of person you are.

    So the answer is, many leadership capabilities are inborn or take a lifetime to develop, but there are many ways of being a leader and most of the key skills can be learned - if you're motivated to do so.

    Which brings us back to the beginning. How willing are you to lead?


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