Posts Tagged ‘leadership’


Listening to Volunteers: Best Practices for Leaders

March 19, 2009

At the 30th annual convention of the International Listening Association, I had the opportunity to give this presentation today. If you download the presentation directly from SlideShare, you can see notes for each slide.


Are leaders born? Or can they be “made”?

December 12, 2007

Are leaders born? Or can they be “made”? This is the center of many discussions in “The Dark Side of Leadership,” one of my Capella University courses during my Ph.D. program. I argue that leadership (in general) can be learned.

Benjamin Zander, conductor of the Boston Philharmonic for nearly three decades, asserts: “Today’s leaders are dynamic, transforming, evolutionary — but they weren’t necessarily born that way. Their training in distinctions allows them to speak passionately and be open to the contributions of others while holding true to a project’s long trajectory. Can leadership be taught? Indeed it can!” (Zander & Zander, 2006).

The traits of a leader are innate; they are the sum and total of the leader’s personality and character. Though the leader may be able to choose which traits are exhibited, the traits continue to exist — and sometimes simmer — under the surface. One can’t dismiss the importance of a leader’s character, especially after learning about what happens when a leader does not possess or exhibit integrity (for example, the leaders of Enron, Tyco, WorldCom, and others).

On the other hand, many of a leader’s competencies — such as the ability to delegate effectively or to deliver a motivating speech — can be learned through time and practice. In my mind, you can’t learn integrity; either it is there or it isn’t. And even if it is “there,” the leader makes a choice whether to exhibit the trait depending on the situation he or she is facing.

So what should be done when a leader is not exhibiting the desired traits or competencies in the workplace? Is development possible? According to an article in Leadership Excellence, we should “build strengths using companion competencies and leverage the ‘halo effect’ where a few profound strengths overshadow individual weaknesses to achieve breakthrough performance improvement” (Trinka, 2005).

A leader – for a time – can exhibit the learned competencies and be successful and effective. Depending on the length of tenure for the leader, this may be enough to get by. However, one competency that the leader must develop is the ability to realize when the dark side may be emerging, and then to deal with it head on. Some leaders are able to do this on their own, while others may seek professional help (like fictionally shown in The Thomas Crown Affair or The Sopranos).

In closing, “Nature may be our internal guide (map), but nurture is our explorer that has the final say in what we do (destination)” (Clark, 1997, Is character developed via nature or nurture section, para. 1).


Clark, D. (1997, September 18, 2005). Leadership: Character and traits. Retrieved July 26, 2006, from

Trinka, J. (2005). Great leaders. Leadership Excellence, 22(7), 17.

Zander, B., & Zander, R. S. (2006). Nature versus nurture [Electronic Version]. Fast Company. Retrieved July 26, 2006 from


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Listening Matters by
Barbara B. Nixon, Ph.D. (ABD) is licensed under a
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