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This responds to Are Leaders Made or Born?

Monday, May 2, 2011
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This early and important research is certainly worthy of further study. However, my personal experience suggests that the final answer will be born and not made.

Let me provide some background for my comments that come from my experience with several major companies and industries, but mostly from a Fortune 500 high-tech company over a recent 10-year period.

Each year, I would sit down with the bosses of about 80 general-management executives (who ran a business that ranged in sales from $50 million to $500 million/annum) and 20 functional corporate executives (Finance, HR, Sales, etc.) to establish an individual-development plan for each of them.

We would discuss their business results, management and executive skills, and various leadership traits at length. Every year, the results would be the same: fewer than five of the 100 executives would be identified with a leadership deficiency (typically, a minor one) that would require improvement.

Also, almost all of them had little, if any, leadership training in their careers.

Also, when the subject matter of a 40-hour executive-training program for the general-management executives was developed, it was decided by top management, the bosses, the general management and functional corporate executives that the program should be broken down as follows: strategic market/product planning - 35 percent, financial management - 30 percent, client management relations - 25 percent and people development/leadership - 10 percent.

Most importantly, this training program was highly regarded by top and line management.

My experience leads me to conclude that, by the time an individual executive has risen to such a high level of management that is accompanied by such a high level of compensation (the annual cash compensation of the above executives ranged from $400K to $800K), the appropriate leadership skills have already been developed and refined.

In sum, these executives were just natural leaders.

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At the lower levels of management, basic supervisory and management skills are in need of much development, but at the middle levels of management, the need for executive-level skill development for personnel with upward management potential becomes very important.

As you mentioned, leadership is one of the least teachable aspects of management. Ironically, look at all the money that corporate America has spent on such an extremely wide range of leadership-training programs yet the tangible business results of such training is limited or non-existent at best.

In my view, HR management has avoided training its general management and functional executives on the tougher/harder side of management (see above), and opted for the easier, softer and conceptual side of management.

This is a key reason why leadership training has not received high marks from our line-management peers.

Jack Bucalo

Retired CHRO for a

Fortune 500 Company


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