How many times have you heard the phrase “leaders aren’t made, they’re born”? Probably plenty, as this expression is common in our society. What this maxim alludes to is that leaders become leaders because they have a specific personality that others will follow. However, that does not mean leadership development is impossible.

If leaders were simply “born,” leadership development programs would not have become so popular. Instead, businesses and organizations understand they need more leaders because there are not enough people that are instinctively skilled to be effective managers.

Therefore, programs have come about to nurture individuals and emphasize their talents. But, leaders must be proactive and invest in leadership development to reap its rewards.

Development is Not Training

One must note is that there is a difference between leadership development programs and simply training leaders. This may sound like simple semantics, but training and development are words that are often used interchangeably.

To illustrate the point, dogs are trained to sit upon command. This takes time and practice in order to master, but the dog is very limited in its capabilities. When trained, the dog learns how to do one thing and one thing only by observing its leader. If the dog were being developed, there would be a system in place to translate the ability to sit to other activities.

A leadership development program should attempt to follow a similar thought process. When businesses turn to such a program to learn how to create a better management team, simple training is inadequate. But how does one develop as a leader?

Be Proactive

The Harvard Business Review conducted a survey of more than 17,000 leaders across the world and came to some very interesting conclusions about how and when they chose to invest in leadership development. Brian Evje of described the findings:

“[T]he average age for their first leadership training was 42, ‘about 10 years after they began supervising people,’ and almost 20 years after they started experiencing leadership in organizations. That’s a long time to observe leaders who are figuring it out on their own, while picking up [his or her] bad habits. A better approach is to take charge of the proper way to learn about leadership.”

This excerpt explains that thousands of the leaders observed in the study spent between one and two decades training instead of developing as leaders.

Employees would watch these leaders and imitate them, regardless of whether or not the habits were helpful, or even correct. This activity would trickle down through the organization over time, and was how many learned leadership skills and traits.

If one were to use the dictionary definition of leadership, he or she would see the phrase “a person who guides or directs a group.” By using those specific terms, we should understand that leadership itself is proactive. This includes the developing the tools necessary for to organize a proper plan for business growth, setting sales and revenue goals, and implementing effective and efficient systems of operation.

Creating a plan for the future is of the utmost importance for any organization, and taking the proactive step of investing in a quality leadership development program will install the tools needed to do so.