I once hired a young engineer who from every visible angle looked like a kid who was out to have fun. He wore torn jeans and sneakers to work, partied like nobody’s business, stumbled in around mid-morning and he was definitely not going to work all hours of the day and night to get a product out the door. The most important thing to him was for the company to have a Foosball table in the break room. But, if you looked beyond all that, you could tell he had a certain quality that most people don’t possess.
Today – maybe 6 years later – he owns his own business, is totally focused on quality and building relationships that build his business. Did he really change, or just go through a more or less inevitable transition somewhat akin to “growing up?”
I can share so many examples similar to this, but they all lead to the same answers: Yes, it is possible to recognize leadership potential, but it’s not always obvious or easy to do. While certain related traits are indeed inherited, leadership potential is largely developed as you grow up. That doesn’t mean it’s a foregone conclusion that everyone will reach their leadership potential. It really depends on the decisions you make and the behaviors you demonstrate throughout your career, not to mention a host of external factors, including luck.
And it’s OK if you don’t have leadership qualities; it can be just as rewarding to be a follower. In fact without good followers, leaders can’t lead. There is a crucial interrelationship critical to successful organizations. Followers may not be able to paint the business world with their very own colors, but they can have great, rewarding careers and make lots of money in the process.
If you had a choice, to have leadership potential and never know it, or to not have it and know it, which would you choose? I’d choose the latter. At least then, I could focus on being and giving the best of me.