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Friday, 1 February 2013

Friday Guest Blog - Is a Manager born or made?

By M Lento, Manager of Management and Leadership Programmes, MOL Training

Time and time again this question pops up in discussions with other managers – “Is a manager born or made?” Although there are several perspectives on this – perhaps mine differs due to transatlantic experience working and training managers globally.

There are many theorists who say that becoming a manager is developmental. You identify a way of working, learn enough supportive knowledge, gain some experience and utilise “best practice” in managing others, resources and finances.

I am convinced it’s innate ability for some. There are managers who are born to manage and lead and there are others who need/have to learn the skills of being a manager.

Over thirty years of management consultancy work and training has revealed a pattern to me regarding those naturally inclined managers. Those with the natural ability to manage and lead have an inbuilt mechanism to do so without any coaching or mentoring; without guidance and without any intrinsic struggle. It seems to be part of their self-realisation process. What they put into practice at a young age appears to carry through into their teenage years and through their adulthood.

This innate ability makes them different – they stand out at a young age. Others may realise their ability – even though academically they may be only average or even below average. However, through personal development, reading, experiential knowledge, they soon catch up and surpass the brightest once they realise they have a talent for “managing.” Sometimes those young leaders later surpass academically their peers – to the chagrin of others. I have also found that those who do not pursue the academic route – are driven on by collecting a series of relationships, mentors and a wide range of experiences – giving them a foot up to their educational driven counterparts.

There are six essential components obvious in the identification of these “natural leaders” which need to be explored more fully to determine whether it may be part of their DNA. The “SEPAN” theory has been based on the accumulation of my observations, interviews, discussions and results. It began over thirty years ago in the USA and is still under scrutiny since I began working at MOL Training in Manchester, training managers in management and leadership. “SEPAN” is:

• Sibling Position

• Experiential Awareness

• Personality and other Determinants

• Assimilation Assessment

• Natural Skills

Sibling Position

Confirmed by child psychologists in the 1960s – the first sibling is usually the most interactive of all children because the “eldest sibling” learns to manage and lead (for better or worse) the rest of his/her siblings at a very young age. They are extroverted and are more amiable to sharing information without hesitation. Unlike their counterpart – the “only child” who is very narcissistic and has little empathy for others or realisation of the impact of decisions – the “eldest child” manager recognises team spirit and instant problem solving focusing on people.

Experiential Awareness

The eldest sibling has the uncanny ability to be very “pragmatic” about their approach in getting things done – especially when there is a tribe of others to manage. As the individual matures – a series of responsibilities and decisions have to be made to protect their “peanut gallery of siblings” – often taking blame for others with a holistic, longer term view. Their sensible role model, because of responsibility, blends into a quick development of self assurance and the ability to plan ahead, especially in relation to the future.


Depending on which neuropsychologists you follow – a manager’s personality can be identified as an individual’s unique set of abilities and personal traits which results in a “consistent pattern of thinking and behaviour” which consistently is applied over time and across many activities.

The mitigating factor is that the personality may be stable but not fixed. Their personal traits may in fact affect their behaviour including their use of “focused communications skills – a vital component in managing situations and problems in the future”. They learn early “You get more by sugar than by salt.” They also get better results by highlighting the positives before the negatives.

One of the most unique determinants is the use of the manager’s learning style, ambidexterity and multi-tasking – all second nature as they reach their early thirties (ten years ahead of their developed not so naturally included counterpart manger). They usually have a balanced 50% oral and 50% visual learning ability and seem to be able to switch their learning style to either when necessary depending on their colleagues or subordinates.

Assimilation Assessment

Another realised ability held by this type of manager lends itself to the ability to naturally plan activities in the long term in a problem solving mode which functions continuously. Experienced with managing others – their foresight has provided the skills of assessing symptoms versus problems. As one young manager said to me “when you have four siblings arguing over who started an argument – you learn to read both the body language and identify the culprit and get to the root of the issue!”

Also identified is the ability of these type of manages to be able to mentally separate out and box people and personality issues from process problems.

Natural Skills

What also intrigues me is that the “eldest child” manager operates by their own strict set of ethics and rules. They identify at an early stage what is right and what is wrong. Their reflective ability and competency to assess impact develops an inward patience – an important competency in order to holistically evaluate situations with that pragmatist approach. With it comes the skill in understanding a sense of urgency and recognising innovation is the key to problem solving.

Most are prolific readers, and utilise professional networking as a second skin of information gathering with the uncanny ability to zero in on other people’s knowledge and experiences – and evaluate, store and use this information for futurist use. When a new challenge is directed to them – they seize it.

Using SEPAN in tracking managers of both sexes and their development has led me to believe over 90% have become respected managers in their own right, rising upwards on the management ladder within companies and organisations compared to their non eldest counterparts.

Only for discussion the question remains – if this is so evident to me through professional discussion, observations, interviews and testimonials why has no one identified the importance of the “the naturally inclined” manager as an asset when looking for new talent? It’s something to think about!

MOL Training works with industry professionals to develop and deliver professional development programmes in Management and Leadership, Facilities Management, HR, Property and Construction Materials

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