Natural Born Leader

The function of leadership is to produce more leaders, not more followers.

Ralph Nader

I used to tell people that I was born to be an engineer. It seemed to me that the ease with which I learned math and mechanics, my ability to visualize and design, and the speed at which I could do these things all pointed to me being “hard-wired” to be an engineer. It turns out I was probably wrong about that.

The research into our brains and how we learn points to everyone having very similar capacities at birth. Early in our lives we learn and create permanent connections within our brains much more easily than we will later in life. So, the things we see and do and experience early in life have a profound impact on what we tend to favor and continue to learn later in life.

From my earliest memories I was around engineers. When I was four, we moved to Stillwater so my dad could attend OSU where he got a degree in electrical engineering. On weekends I remember going with him to the student union while he studied and worked problems or visiting the labs where they were designing projects for class. When he graduated and we moved to Oklahoma City so he could go to work at Kimray, I remember him working at the kitchen table or on the couch in the den. I was fascinated by the drawings and equations.

I was also immersed in an environment where problems got solved scientifically and then the solutions were actually built and put in place. My father and both grandfathers fixed everything. They designed things, built things, and solved problems. And they included me. I spent many evenings and weekends listening and watching as drawings were made and edited, discussions were had about the solutions being considered, and then we would head to the shop and make it happen.

By the time I was old enough to take algebra in school I already had more exposure to STEM than most kids get in a lifetime. I don’t know if I was born to be an engineer, but I certainly was raised to be one. That is not to say that there aren’t other factors involved in what comes easier to each of us. I would most likely never have made a good gymnast, no matter how hard I tried. There are physical, mental, emotional and spiritual differences between us that impact what we are drawn to and more easily excel at. But much of life is a matter of effort and time.

The idea that we are born to be something can be empowering in some ways. I always stuck with whatever I was working on because I believed I was meant to be what I was. However, if we are born to be something, it also means there are lots of things we aren’t born to be. That is a very dangerous and limiting ideology. It may require more effort to learn and master new things as we get older, but the ability and the capacity are still there.

People are not natural-born leaders, they must be developed into one.

When we begin to understand that desire and effort can lead to growth and mastery, we can start looking for people who have a desire to lead and just need the time, training and support to achieve that goal.

Motivation is the most critical component of this equation. People who want to lead so they can be powerful or in control may acquire all the skills necessary to manage, but they will never be leaders in the sense we are looking for at Kimray. Wanting to see people thrive and be successful in life coupled with a desire to serve others is the motivation that leads to the kind of leadership we want to develop.

They can’t do it alone. I didn’t become an engineer all by myself. I was supported, guided, shown what it looked like, and given the tools and education needed to become an engineer. Likewise, we have to walk beside each other and encourage each other in the areas that need development. We have to intentionally model healthy leadership and explain why we do or don’t do things. We have to provide opportunity for education and skill acquisition and encourage those with the right motivation to take those opportunities.

Since none of us was born to lead, all of us are in varying stages of the process of becoming a leader. We are all still developing. It is often said that you never learn something as well as you do when you prepare to teach it. The same is true with leadership. The best thing we can do for ourselves as leaders is to invest in others and help them become leaders. In doing so, we improve.

We shouldn’t be looking for leaders. We should be looking for people who want to serve others. We should be looking for people who are eager to learn. We should be looking for people who want to make a difference. Then we should help those people become leaders. That helps us. That helps others. That makes a difference. That is the Kimray Way.