One of the questions that often comes up in leadership development is whether leaders are born or made? Is all the effort to develop leaders worthwhile? Sometimes I feel like Woody Allen’s character in Stardust Memories- interrogating super intelligent beings who tell him “You are asking the wrong questions.“
For a radically different approach to understanding the various paths to leadership, get your hands on a copy of Kevin Sheehan’s A Leader Becomes a Leader (True Gifts Publishing, 2007). Do not look for a formulaic step-by-step guide here. This s a collection of stories. Sheehan retells the experience of leaders, drawing on a wide range of examples. Some are biographies that you would expect to see in such a book: Abraham Lincoln, Mohandas Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and Bill Gates. But many others are examples of leadership that approach the topic from a wholly different perspective: Georgia O’Keefe, Neil Armstrong and Billie Jean King. The stories are fascinating.
But the true power of the book is in the way the narratives are organized. Each represents what Sheehan calls a Virtue of Leadership. So Mother Theresa is no surprise for compassion. Neither is Ruby Bridges for courage. But Sheehan also gives us John Coltrane for intensity, Louis Armstrong for joy and John Lennon for creativity. These Virtues are then organized into the various paths taken to leadership- intentional or not. It makes for a very thought provoking read and an entry into the domain that rises above questions of linear process.
If you are fond of the list books (The five absolute rules of this, or the 10 undeniable principals of that) you will be out of your element here. This is a collection of stories that asks us to view with softer eyes and a greater appetite for ambiguity- and will provide great food for thought if you wish to ponder leadership as a way of being.
For a more current view into Sheehan’s thinking, and that of others he as attracted to write on the subject, visit the newly launched leadership portal site: www.becomealeader.org.