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Are leaders made or born?

Posted by Malcolm Hall in: leadership

Having two young boys, and seeing how different they are, I now subscribe more to the former than the latter,but I also firmly believe that it is the influences of others that can evolve a leader into a great leader.

As a young boy, I was fortunate enough to have been led by a great sailing coach. Long before the concept of 'servant leadership' became a hot topic, this man epitomised my idea of what it means to be a really strong leader. Yes, he provided us with the right training and guidance, but more importantly, he never placed any limits on our abilities. He let us realise that we could go as far as we wanted to go, we could truly dream big. And it was this belief that catapulted each of us to go beyond what many thought possible, because we never had any reason to believe that we couldn't. I will forever be thankful to this coach who not only provided the structure and support for me to develop my love of sailing, but also showed me the beauty of true leadership.

Are leaders made or born?

A bit later in my sailing career, I learnt another valuable leadership lesson. I was still in high school when I became part of a crew that decided to appoint me as their skipper. All of them were older than I was, some more experienced and knowledgeable, but they felt that I would be the best person to harness the collective skills of the team. They taught me that it takes a big person to step back and let the better person for the job lead. Most importantly, the experience taught me that leadership doesn't mean calling the shots. It's about listening to your team, it's about communicating, collaborating and directing for the benefit of the greater team.

These days, I spend more of my time on terra firma, running the trails near my home. I've done well in my fair share of races, but was never really the front runner. It just wasn't something that I saw as being attainable. Until recently, that is. I didn't increased my training, or change my diet. I simply had a chat with our in-house Biokineticist, and what she said shifted my perspectives. With a trail series coming up, she casually suggested that I win a couple of races. She knew I had the potential; it all came down to me believing in myself. And on race day, when I looked around at the other runners on the starting line, I knew that I had every reason to win. Walking away with the Gold that day, I realised once again that sometimes you just need someone outside yourself to help you see through your self-imposed limitations and inhibitions.

Early on in my career, I was again incredibly fortunate to be guided by managers who embraced a similar philosophy. Looking back, they gave me wide latitude to succeed or fail. And it was this 'sink or swim' approach that pushed me to really succeed. It may sound risky, but I know now that I was vetted before I was pushed into the deep end. My managers entrusted me with new tasks that were arguably beyond my current capability level, but not beyond my potential. I had no reason to doubt that I couldn't perform, so I did. Sometimes it is as simple as that.

I always wanted to be this kind of leader. And I'm proud to say that Open Box has become a place that embraces this approach to leadership. With the correct training, and the right framework, we've created an environment where people can truly flourish, unhindered by preconceived limitations. We stretch people beyond what they think is possible. And when your whole company is filled with individuals who go way beyond the regular benchmarks, you become a company whose bright future knows no bounds.

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