Everyday leadership, Nature or nurture: Leadership skills a combination of both

My brother Jack was Mom’s fourth and last child. He had the unfortunate timing of being born while his three siblings were suffering with whooping cough. It wasn’t wise to bring a newborn into our disease-ridden home so Mom extended her hospital stay as long as was allowed. Then he was placed in the care of my Dad’s sister, Aunt Jenny, who loved the opportunity for a couple of weeks to take care of a sweet newborn.

After the coughing ceased, our new baby brother was brought home. Mom always thought he was greatly impacted by the early separation from her. As a toddler when he lost sight of Mom, Jack chanted, “Momma, Momma, Momma,” until Mom answered. Then Jack was satisfied with his location technique and went about his play.

A few years later since he was the youngest, it was my responsibility along with my older brother Joe to make sure Jack was safe on our various explorations around our farm. When we plowed through blackberry briars, Joe made the initial path and I pulled the persistent thorns off Jack’s clothing and out of his way.

Sometimes Joe moved so fast, we lost sight of him. I called with urgency for him to slow down. Sometimes he slowed down and other times, it was his intention to leave us behind. In the latter situations, Jack and I turned around and made our way home. We always found something of interest in the barn or down by the pond. Soon we learned the lay of the land and we were able to proceed without Joe’s leadership. Jack benefited from the experience of his two older brothers and learned how to get around the farm easily.

Once grown, each year Jack sent Mom flowers on his birthday. He believed that being born was less skillful on his part than on Mom’s. His desire was to celebrate Mom and what she went through that day many years ago rather than to celebrate him being born.

Now Jack is the assistant director of the Center for Archaeological Research and assistant professor at Missouri State University. He travels all over the Ozark Mountains and nearby regions to document 13,000 years of habitation. He has presented his findings to the Smithsonian Museum and has been featured in National Geographic and on National Public Radio.

Out of necessity, Jack was separated from Mom and his immediate family during his first days. This separation may have created an anxiety in him. As he grew out of the toddler stage and into young adulthood and observed the leadership of those around him, he adopted the models he saw. He even invented humble ways of honoring others as with Mom’s birthday flowers. With academic training he made a difference in his field. Our leadership skills are a combination of nature and nurture as are most of our behaviors. The best leaders capitalize on their inherent abilities and seek additional skills and abilities from experienced others.

R. Glenn Ray, Ph.D., is the president of RayCom Learning. To learn more about Ray’s completely revised, third printing of The Facilitative Leader: Behaviors that Enable Success, visit his Web site, www.raycomlearning.com. Everyday Leadership appears each Wednesday on the Business page.