Leadership – Nature, Nurture or both? Five ways it can be Nurtured

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Last week one of our team was discussing that their teenage son was showing interest in understanding more about leadership given they had recently been placed in a leadership role at school. They raised the often asked question “Is leadership nature, nurture or both? And if is nurture then what are some ways that leadership can be nurtured?” This discussion reminded me that it has been some time since we had looked at contemporary thinking around this question.

Contemporary thinking endorses that leadership is a combination of both nature and nurture. Over the past decade research from multiple sources concluded that people who lead do so in different ways or choose not to lead at all indicating there must be an inherent desire to lead present. If this genetic predisposition was the only factor determining leadership ability then organisations would have ready-made leaders waiting to rise through the necessary levels to take up leadership positions. This would remove the need for a great many leadership programs and the hundreds of books that continue to be written each year about leaders and leadership. While there is support for the notion that natural leadership traits play a role, it’s only one small part of the puzzle.

More than two decades ago Stogdill[1] raised the prospect that leadership was a result of situation and environment. Adding this into the mix suggests leadership is a complex mix of genetics and the product of one’s environment. Environment will impact on how these various traits develop; mindset, behaviour, creativity, intuition, judgment, vision, risk tolerance, to list some of the more obvious ones.   Leadership is something those who choose to lead grow into as result of considering and applying the sum total of experiences that encourage a leader’s skills to be honed over time.

In our work in developing leaders, irrespective of the goals leaders set and whether business conditions are favourable or challenging, there are five key qualities strong leaders share in common.

Communication: Effective leaders are effective communicators. It’s not just about being a good speaker; it is also about being a good listener. Being inspiring and articulate engages people to realise a vision or have clarity around a task and the road ahead, however being a good listener allows you to pick up on the nuances and quickly zero in on the challenges facing people.

Optimism: We don’t know anyone who willingly would follow a pessimist. It was Martin Seligman In his book ‘Learned Optimism’ that showed us that optimism can be learned.

Commitment: As a leader your word is your bond; your commitment is tantamount to giving a promise to deliver what you said you would, when you said you would.

Adaptability: We are living in a disruptive world. The key question for a leader today is to ask; ‘What’s impossible to achieve today, but, if it could be done, would fundamentally change our business for the better?’

Integrity: Defined in most dictionaries asthe quality of being honest and having strong moral principles.’ Leaders need to be open and honest in their dealings with all people, it underpins their trustworthiness.

Whether you’ve just moved into a larger leadership role, or a business start-up, or you aspire to lead others, now is the time to focus on developing your leadership qualities as there is much to be learned.


Vivente Australia enables leaders and managers develop the bond between people and performance, creating a powerful advantage: the synergy between people, leadership, management, and culture, produces performance that allows your business to achieve its best.

[1] Bass and Stogdill Handbook of Leadership 3rd Edition