By Gavin Jones
IS leadership born or learnt? It would be easy to duck the question when tackling a subject such as this and give equal credence to both sides of the argument as opposed to championing one cause at the expense of the other.
In the same vein, I’m reminded of situations with which many of us have had to contend when asking someone to make a decision concerning the most trivial of requests. One such example is asking whether they’d prefer a cup of tea or coffee, only to receive an illogical or passing-the-buck type of response such as ‘yes’, ‘whatever you think’, ‘what are you going to have?’ or else ‘whatever’s easiest for you’. I can almost see you nodding your heads in agreement or hear you expressing howls of acknowledged frustration!
Some of you may have either read books written by high profile gurus or captains of industry, or else been sent on courses hosted by experts who’ve made a business out of imparting their own experiences and wisdom about the right path for managing people and getting the best out of them. All too often these occasions tend to be an excuse to get out of the office and socialise or compare situations with other people attending the course. Apart from anything else, what’s discussed at these events is fundamentally of a theoretical nature, and to a great extent has little bearing in the real world. What’s a sure-fire certainty is that leafing through a myriad of books or attending numerous lectures won’t make someone a better leader of men if the rudimentary qualities required don’t exist within the individual in the first place.
Shakespeare really was a genius as so much of what he wrote has endured and is relevant today. His line from Twelfth Night, “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them”, is a case in point and can be transposed to leadership. A few characters from history can claim through accident of birth or circumstance to have experienced all the elements within this quotation. Alexander the Great, Augustus Caesar and Elizabeth I of England are three such examples as they were born ‘great’, certainly ‘achieved greatness’ and had ‘greatness thrust upon them’.
The difference is that they were able to handle all that was thrown at them and consistently proved that as far as they were concerned, leadership was second nature. Although they witnessed at first hand imperial power being exercised and doubtless took on board certain dos and don’ts of leadership, unless they possessed the intelligence, ability and drive within themselves to persevere and succeed, they would have gone down in history as abject failures like so many other kings, queens and military leaders. None of them attended management courses or military academies, instead learning everything on the hoof and adapting accordingly!
The careers of two other giants are worthy of mention: Napoleon and Churchill. Although from totally different backgrounds, they both endured immense struggles and multiple failures, and yet it’s my contention that like Alexander, Augustus Caesar and Elizabeth, their ability to lead came from within and was a natural, personal attribute.
Finally, there are two current leaders whose decision-making prowess will, to a lesser or greater extent, determine the future of Cyprus: Nicos Anastasiades and Theresa May. Neither of them have what can be termed as glorious track records nor the charisma or stature of two of their predecessors, Makarios and Thatcher, the former the son of a shepherd, the latter the daughter of a grocer. Up until now, neither Anastasiades nor May have displayed that element of decisive leadership by taking control of situations. Instead, they are reactive to events as opposed to proactive. Without going into the specific details as to their respective handling of crises, most of which are anyway in the public domain, it’s extremely doubtful whether either of them will be in power for much longer. In both cases, leadership has been ‘thrust upon them’ and judging by their performances to date, neither are naturally born to that role.