Leadership, nature or nurture?

False dichotomy, and irrelevant. I remember at my Captain’s Career Course, Virginia, 2015-2016, exploring this question within our small group. A perennial question within the military; like questions about resilience, supply discipline, maneuver or mission command, it makes its way back around quite often.


Yes. On leadership as a skill (or any other skill), are these our only two options? Nature or nurture? By adulthood, neither falls within one’s control. What about choice?

On nurture, in his book Outliers: The Story of Success (2008), author Malcolm Gladwell highlights the very important and easily overlooked role that culture plays in beginning the 10,000 hours of a high performer. Like the slow game of building wealth through regular and disciplined savings coupled with compound interest, the earlier one begins deliberately compounding a skill, the earlier in adulthood he receive the extreme benefits of decades of effort.

On parenting, I believe up to a certain age, it’s not a kid’s fault. (By “it” I mean just about any decision a child makes and the results that follow the decision.) After a certain age, one becomes an adult. What happened to him as a kid now remains just an excuse, to blame, to procrastinate.

If you’re an adult male and haven’t decided where you want to go in life, then you’ve already decided to go nowhere. Man up and make a fucking decision. Stick to it long enough to reasonably see it through.

What about nurture? Yesterday, I drove the 8+ hours to pick up my kids. My wife drove back. On the way, I remember listening to comedian Jim Gaffigan on Pandora. He was talking about how beautiful people have it so much easier.

He joked how when a beautiful person smiles at you, you think, “Wow. Isn’t he nice.” When he’s ugly, you think, “Eeesh. What does he want? Creep.”

In many ways, what makes for physical beauty (e.g., facial symmetry, facial averageness, proportionality in line with the golden ratio, height, color, hair, eyes, build, health, youthful appearance, voice) results from genetics. Can’t choose it. Fuck it. Play the hand you’ve been dealt.

As an ugly person myself, I like the challenge. I agree with Jim Gaffigan’s point. Beautiful people play the game of life on easy mode. I play the game on hard mode. I prefer it that way.

I saw an interview with Morgan Freeman once on CNN in which he got asked, among other questions, “Does race still hold us back from success?” (paraphrased). By “us,” the interviewer meant Black Americans, as the interviewer was also Black. Morgan Freeman replied, “No. Not at all. Not in anyway” (paraphrased). Race, like beauty, is nature. We’re born into it. We don’t choose our parents.


A better question is, to what extent does nature (such as beauty or race) affect success? To what extent does it matter to me? To what extent will I let it matter?

The question of nature vs. nature is irrelevant. You can’t go back in time and change it, can you? So why bother focusing that much about it, when you could instead be focusing on what you can do something about?

The same goes with leadership, and every other skill or pursuit towards success. The dichotomy is particularly irrelevant in a school aimed at further developing leadership. Going to school for something implies that we have the ability to develop that something – if we can’t develop it, then why make a school for it in the first place?