Leaders Are Made, Not Born

Leaders Are Made, Not Born

The opportunities Hockaday has given students are conducive to their development as leaders

Credit: Sofi Mira
Credit: Sofi Mira

Newly elected Student Council members will soon receive multiple opportunities to test the theory about whether lead­ers are born or made.

The results of a recent Stu­dent Council StrengthsQuest assessment indicated that Hockaday does a good job of turning girls into future lead­ers and that council members and their classmates have dif­ferent types of extroverted and introverted leader­ship skills.

The Student Council took the assessment survey in preparation for the Strengths and Leadership Student Council Workshop that took place on April 9.

According to an article by Dr. Ronald E. Riggo, a professor of leadership and organizational psychology at Claremont McKenna College and the author of Psychology Today’s Cutting-Edge Leader­ship blog, surveys such as the one Student Council members took help students pursue lead­ership positions and create leader self-development plans.

In his article, Riggo said that “the job of leading an organiza­tion is fantastically complex,” and currently “there is tremen­dous interest in leadership and in leader development.”

Upper School counselor Dr. Margaret Morse believes that council members and other students have Hockaday teachers and classroom cur­riculums to thank for prop­erly developing their fledgling leadership skills.

“The whole school is focused on helping young stu­dents find their voice,” Morse said. “The school wants every student to know how to research, under­stand a topic, make sense of it for them­selves, synthesize in­formation and say something about it. The skill sets that they learn through the cur­riculum are critical to being an effective leader.”

According to Morse, stu­dents at Hockaday learn many more critical thinking tech­niques than they would at other public or private schools because of Hockaday’s unique curriculum.

“Other schools may just be regurgitating what is told in text­books and supplemental class­room materials,” Morse said. “Knowing how to take a certain kind of test does not facilitate a higher level of critical thinking.”

She added that the way teachers educate and the things they value in the learning pro­cess encourages students to be­come strong leaders.

Upper School Student Council President and junior Frances Burton agrees with Morse and affirms that these points are being efficiently communicated to Hockaday students.

“Our classroom settings allow for conversation and ar­ticulation of thoughts in front of people,” Burton said. “The classroom settings are small, but this is good practice be­cause in the real world, lead­ers are in front of much larger groups of people.”

Burton believes that an all-girls school setting creates a warm and welcoming environ­ment, in which students can find their own voice among a multitude of opportunities.

“With school activities, Hockaday just has a wide vari­ety of ways for students to get involved in things they are pas­sionate about,” Burton said.

She added that there are other opportunities besides Student Council.

“There are lots of clubs, sports and music,” Burton said.

“There are also social ac­tivities that allow students to lead in ways they are unique­ly interested in. If you don’t want to be Student Council president, you can be presi­dent of something else.”

Student Council activi­ties and the all-girls envi­ronment have enabled Bur­ton to find her own voice and use that voice to help other students.

“We are taught to be a change in the world and not suppress our voices,” she said. “Girls should be en­abled to have these skills to help them survive and thrive in the world. I know that in the Hockaday environment, what I say has the potential to make a positive difference to another student.”

The Student Council leadership workshop survey results listed empathy for oth­ers and being change agents as leadership skills that are favored by both council members and the staff who oversees the council.

Morse and Assistant Head of Upper School Elizabeth Jones continued to list numer­ous other leadership skills and traits and agreed that leaders are, for the most part, made and not born.

“One might argue that leaders are born with cer­tain kinds of traits,” Jones said. “But, this doesn’t mean someone is a born leader. This just means someone can be a different type of leader depending on what she can offer a community.”

Jones, Burton and Morse agree that the best lead­ers share many of the same traits, such as the abilities to listen to others, accept the opinions of others, be honest, be humble, be fearless, stand up for personal values and know when to ask questions or ask for help in an effort to seek greater understanding of difficult concepts.

“Leaders have great in­terpersonal skills and can sit with people through dif­ficult conversations,” Morse said. “Leadership is not just about having a title. I ap­preciate leadership that in­volves taking in different viewpoints before making a decision and be willing to stand up for that decision.”

Morse also said the best leaders are more empathetic and more humble than peo­ple who are not leaders.

“The people I admire the most are people willing to admit they were wrong or made mistakes,” Morse said. “It is best to go backwards, make apologies and move forward. I don’t respect too many people who are stub­born. A lot of people gravi­tate more towards leaders who are human.”

Burton said she gravi­tates towards leaders who are more extroverted but that introverted leaders do have skills and traits that are beneficial in certain types of group settings.

According to Burton, there is not that much of a difference between extro­verted leaders and introvert­ed leaders.

“I think leadership, in its essence, has to come out in social settings,” Burton said. “Social settings are perfect settings for developing lead­ership skills because leaders get feedback from the peo­ple who follow them.”

Extroverted leaders are more easily identifiable. However, Morse added that introverted leaders do exist and that people just have to think harder to find them and understand the impact of their leadership style.

Available to help coun­cil members and students develop and assess the im­pacts of leadership styles are best-selling books on leadership such as Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In,” Doris Kearns Goodwin’s “Team of Rivals,” Stephen Covey’s “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” and Simon Sinek’s “Start with Why.”

Other best-selling books on leadership, specifically good for high school and col­lege students to read, are Jim Collins’ “Good to Great,” Tony Hsieh’s “Delivering Happi­ness,” Seth Godin’s “Tribes,” Daniel Pink’s “Drive,” Alfred Lansing’s “Endurance” and Patrick Lencioni’s “The Five Dysfunc­tions of a Team.”

Riggio said, in one of his Psychol­ogy Today articles, that people who use resources for lead­ership development should continue to remind themselves “most of leadership is made, not born.”

“The fact that leadership is most­ly made is good news for those of us involved in leader­ship development —leaders can in­deed be developed,” Riggio said in his article. “Yet, there is some raw material, some inborn charac­teristics that predis­pose people to be and become leaders.”

Jones said that leaders should find a style that fits their abilities and comfort zone. If leaders try to be people they are not, their messages will not find the right audience.

“How you lead would be different from how I lead because we are different people,” Jones said. “I think, in order to effectively lead, leadership requires a level of authenticity. It has to be your own style. This is what makes someone a genuine and true leader as opposed to someone trying to lead in a way that makes people uncomfo r t a b l e because she went outside of who she truly is.”

Jones believes Hockaday provides a unique environ­ment in which peo­ple, such as faculty and staff who cur­rently are leaders, can teach students and alumnae to be future generations of leaders.

“Leader ship is something that you learn,” Jones said. “Leadership is something that takes a great deal of practice, which is exactly what we do here at the school. We can never be perfect at it. We can always improve upon it.”

– Catherine Jiang