Rosabeth Moss Kanter holds the Ernest L. Arbuckle Professorship at Harvard Business School, where she specializes in strategy, innovation, and leadership for change. Her strategic and practical insights have guided leaders of large and small organizations worldwide for over 25 years, through teaching, writing, and direct consultation to major corporations and governments. The former Editor of Harvard Business Review (1989-1992), Professor Kanter has been named to lists of the "50 most powerful women in the world" (Times of London), and the "50 most influential business thinkers in the world" (Accenture and Thinkers 50 research). In 2001, she received the Academy of Management's Distinguished Career Award for her scholarly contributions to management knowledge, and in 2002 was named "Intelligent Community Visionary of the Year" by the World Teleport Association.
Kanter is well known for her classic 1977 study of "tokenism" on how being a minority can affect one's performance due to enhanced visibility and performance pressure. She is the author or co-author of 17 books, focused largely on business management techniques, especially change management. Her most recent book, America the Principled: 6 Opportunities for Becoming a Can-Do Nation Once Again sets forward a positive agenda for the nation. Her previous book, Confidence: How Winning Streaks & Losing Streaks Begin & End was a New York Times business bestseller and a BusinessWeek #1 bestseller. The book draws on more than 300 interviews with leaders in business, sport and politics to explore the role confidence plays in the performance of institutions and individuals.
Question: Are leaders born or made?
Rosabeth Moss Kanter: I certainly believe leaders can be made. I think some people who are extraordinary are born leaders and they probably showed it from an early age at one end of the continuum. And I think at the other end, there may be people who could never be a leader no matter what they did. But I think everybody has in them the potential to lead. And the question is whether the circumstances evoke that … whether they're given the opportunity; whether they're given the chances to practice; mentors who advise them, who guide them, who tell them not to make stupid mistakes; whether they're given the education so that they have the intellectual ability. Because remember leaders are not just emotionally powerful because people want to follow them. They're also often intellectually powerful. That is, they have an important idea that thinks beyond the current situation. They can set an agenda for change. And so you need a certain intellectual ability. Education helps. What I see is that in places whether it's countries, communities, or companies that are … that have a positive culture … Let me start that again. What I see in communities, countries and companies that have a positive culture that are on a winning streak that build confidence is that they also produce more leaders because they empower more people to take initiative on actions they see. But in organizations or communities that are closed, bureaucratic, hierarchical, topped down, one person or a small pool controls everything, therefore shutting everybody else out of the opportunity to lead, and to develop further their skills and leadership.
I think Nelson Mandela in South Africa had to be a natural leader. There are very few people in the world who could have done what he did. I mean 27 years in prison, and coming out and repairing a troubled nation and forgiving his enemies. He's off the charts when it comes to leadership. I think you probably have to be born Mandela. On the other hand, I think all of us can find our inner Mandela. That is reach more deeply into ourselves to pull out the best parts of ourselves that help us lead. And whether we're encouraged to do that or not has a great deal to do with the culture that surrounds us and the support we get from our colleagues. So yes. With encouragement, a positive culture, and support from colleagues, more people can become leaders.
Recorded on: 6/13/07