This month, I’m involved in helping run a summer school in Oxford, the Adaptation Academy, for senior staff involved in climate adaptation projects. My strand embraces the human dimension – self-development, leadership, politics, and communication. Following a leadership tour of the City of Oxford, one of the participants posted this question in the Academy’s collaboration space:
“I have heard about someone being a ‘leader by birth or from birth’. The argument here is that some people may not notice that they are actually made to lead but that just happens. I want to get Wilson’s comment on this.”
I realise that this is largely subjective, and that it’s a classic discussion point, but for the record here’s my reply:
“Thanks, it’s an important discussion point.
You may remember that, at one point in the sessions, I mentioned three dimensions – Knowledge, Skills, and Attitudes. To start with, I see the ability to be a leader as a consequence of our Attitudes. Someone is already being a leader when they hone their Skills. And Knowledge can be obtained by anyone with a sufficiently trained mind. So your question (from my perspective) is whether our Attitudes are formed genetically (or in the womb) or once we are born?
My personal opinion has always been that the vast majority of our personality is shaped by our life experience – much of that in our infancy, childhood and adolescence. This is because I am ‘classically’ trained – a Freudian. However, I am having to review this in my own mind as there are a growing number of studies that show that there are apparently inherited personality traits. Personally, I am critical of some of the studies and sceptical of their conclusions, but I know I need to keep a flexible mind on it.
Personality is something that can be observed. I tend to use a Jungian approach – which many people have encountered through the Myers Briggs Types Indicator or the Kiersey Temperament Sorter.
In this sense, it is a reflection of our attitudes and our coping mechanisms (our ways of handling challenges to our emotional status quo). Most of us predominantly draw on a relatively small number of coping mechanisms and do so consistently. I have seen no evidence that our preferences for these are genetic in origin, but I have witnessed many people who can identify quite clearly where in their life their particular coping mechanisms originate from.
The exercise that I introduced – the idea of a time-line showing key events and their impact – is a powerful one to start the thinking around this.
If this is something that particularly concerns you then I’m very happy to pick it up in a one-to-one.
Would anyone care to add anything?