Born Leaders or Leaders Made by Mentors? By Ed Robinson, CSP

Are leaders born or made? If we take a magnifying glass to their lives, I think we will find that they are made: made by mentors.
In a researching effort to write a sequel to my book “4 Giant Steps to Leadership,” I have interviewed dozens of leaders in different industries with an emphasis on professional service firms, organizations and associations. While opinions vary, my conclusion is quite precise in that there are several roads or journeys to that mountain called leadership and every journey is populated with great mentors. In short, the people we meet on our life journey determine whether or not we become leaders.

In virtually every interview I ask this key question, “What individuals in your past or even those you’ve read about made the biggest impact on you as the leader you are today?”

Typically the response will come after a few moments of reflection. My interviewees usually name three to five people and the specific characteristics each of them processed that made a mark on their mind and soul.

The follow up question is simply, “What characteristics that these people possessed do you emulate today!”

I have found that this emulation process is often unconscious yet when reflected upon, leaders can usually break down where and from whom they’ve pick up their unique style which is a blend of many people working within them to create the leader they are today.

How can we develop leaders in our association?

A couple of years ago, I was working with a professional service organization that wanted to take a more proactive role towards developing leaders. The organization was expanding and the principles knew that it would need to have more leaders to handle the growth as well as replace those who have put in years of effort and were ready for retirement.

We decided to start a formal mentoring program with the development of leaders from within to be the end product.

What skill set does a good mentor have?

After a few brainstorming sessions where we focused on the organization’s mission and the current vision of the leadership teams, we came up with a structure for the new leadership program.

When we needed to identify potential mentors for the new leaders. We looked for people who:

  1. Possessed the ability and desire to empower and motivate.
  2. Embraced the vision of the executive leadership team.
  3. Communicated the vision clearly and inspiringly.
  4. Possessed the discipline to be a great role model for men-tees.

What are a good leader’s skill sets?

Bob, a former partner with Price Waterhouse and the current Chief Auditing Executive in the gaming industry, made an interesting observation to me. He said, “For every ladder we climb in our industry or organization we move one step further from the technical competencies we developed to enter our fields. We end up relying more on our key ‘management soft skills’ to lead our organizations.”
Bob is pointing out that to grow and develop an organization, especially one built on technical services, we must grow and develop the leadership skills of our core staff.

Our next step was to decide upon the skill set we would teach the new leaders. We decided that there are certain key skills that a line staffer must know if they are going to grow through the organizational maze and become a leader.

That being said, here are five generic core skills you can use as a model to develop leaders in your organization.

  1. Develop your technical competencies to grow within your organization. For example, if you are in the accounting industries, master your specific discipline, like taxes, audit or business modeling.
  2. Refine your project management skills and your ability to initiate, plan, execute, control and close out a project.
  3. Exhibit excellent communication and persuasive skills. Be able to affect behavior as well as solve problems and manage conflict.
  4. Develop sound customer service and client relationship skills, communicating to customers and potential customers the value being delivered.
  5. Possess the capacity to train staff for both replacement and future growth opportunities.

Leaders one and all

Are there born leaders? I would have to say that there are individuals who are born to a journey that includes role models and opportunities to develop discipline.

Since a leader is the product of the sum total of his or her experiences, we all have the capability of becoming leaders. I will say that as proactive organizations, we can identify where we want to take our associations in terms of client base, quality of relationships and continued growth potential.

Once we identify our goal, we can identify the skill set that will take us to it. Clarity around the skill set brings us to the point of establishing a mentoring program in each of our organizations. A clear vision combined with a consistent mentoring program equals an endless supply of leaders – the greatest asset a business can have!

Ed Robinson is a proven professional growth expert with over 20 years experience in both corporate and private business sectors. Ed is the author of “The Million $ Rainmaker”, “The 4 Giant Steps to Leadership” and his newest book “From Fighting the Storms to Dancing in the Rain” which deals with change and other storms in our lives. Ed can be reached at or 1-800-381-1433

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