Leadership, War and Hollywood
26 September 2019
Many people assume that select individuals are born to be inherent leaders with innate skills, traits, and characteristics. I believe leaders are not born with the ability to lead but develop their leadership skills over time. Throughout Leadership Theory and Practice Northouse states that “leadership can be observed in leader behaviors, and can be learned” (Northouse, 7) and that “many people have the potential for leadership… they can acquire leadership (Northouse, 47). There is no gene for leadership. Every individual has the capacity to learn what are considered to be the traits and skills necessary for a successful leader.
An excellent example of somebody who learned leadership traits through life experiences and a person who inspires me is my childhood swim coach, Mike Simmerman. Mike was my swim coach from age four to seventeen. One thing that made Mike a great leader and why he inspires me are his selfless leadership skills and ability to influence others without the use of coercive power. Often times, leaders use coercive power to control their followers. Mike instead gained influence over his followers through the use of referent power. Referent power is a power that has been gained due to the followers like and respect for the leader (Northhouse, 10), while coercive power is “derived from having the capacity to penalize or punish others”(Northhouse,10). Mike ensured that the respect his followers gave to him would be reciprocated. In addition to utilizing referent power, Mike also learned a necessary behavior that accounted for his success in leadership. Mike learned how to be firm with his followers, but not rigid. He never punished people in order to gain power but instead made sure that inappropriate behavior was not tolerated. People would never be penalized or punished for their actions but would be talked to understand why their behavior was not allowed respectfully. Mike is inspiring not only due to his ability to lead the swim team and the entire pool staff but for maintaining the respect of his followers and creating a fun and healthy work environment for everybody he leads.
Mike demonstrated the idea that leadership can be learned and is not something that select individual inherently possesses. Mike did not start off as a leader by any means. Mike started as a regular lifeguard, became head guard and then made his way to the head swim coach and pool director. Like Mike, some of the greatest leaders in history such as George Washington, General Robert E Lee and many others started from a lower position then learned how to become leaders. None of them were born to be leaders; however, over long periods of time, they were able to learn how to lead in an effective manner. The similar growth in leadership between Mike, George Washington, and General Robert E Lee exemplifies how leadership can be learned by anyone and is not determined by trait, but experience over time.
Northouse, Peter G. Leadership: Theory and Practice. 6th ed., Sage, 2019.