Henry Mintzberg

An academic and author on business and management discusses his writing, his definition of leadership, and balance in society.

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Born or Made?

“[L]eadership really comes from the challenge of difficult jobs and being moved around and having challenges at critical points in your career. That’s how you train leadership. But I think a lot of leadership is kind of born.”

Description of the video:

SCARPINO: There are literally probably hundreds of books that claim one way or another to teach somebody to be a leader. There are dozens of programs. And you are arguing, I think, that it’s really not possible to train a leader. You cannot learn to be a leader out of a book or in school.

MINTZBERG: I’m arguing that you don’t create a leader in a classroom. You can take people with leadership and management capabilities and enhance those by giving them some tips and some advice and so on, largely by enabling them to reflect on their own experience. I think people like Morgan McCall have written very eloquently about how leadership really comes from the challenge of difficult jobs and being moved around and having challenges at critical points in your career. That is how you train leadership. But I think a lot of leadership is kind of born or probably established by the age of five, anyway.

SCARPINO: That was the next question I was going to ask you, and I was going to set it up by saying that as a young man I may have had an unreasonable fantasy that I could have been a major league pitcher or something, but I didn’t have the physical skills to do that. So, would you argue that good leaders are born or made or some combination thereof? Can anybody be a leader?

MINTZBERG: No, but it’s surprising how many people can emerge out of the blue with surprising leadership capabilities, constantly surprising ourselves with people who actually nobody expected it of them. Sometimes in a crisis, you will find that somebody will emerge who nobody expected to be and will grab leadership needs and do something with them. So you never quite know. So you could be born with all kinds of capabilities that could come out in all kinds of strange ways . . . .

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