Are Leaders Born or Made?

Bradley Brown, CEO of Fletchers, tells his story about how he became a management leader.

I am using the term management leader to refer to the path I’ve chosen, which is to be a leader in the business environment.

We continually read theories from a range of writers on what makes a good leader, what leaders do, or how you too can be a leader in six easy steps. We rarely read articles from leaders in action, telling us in practical terms how they lead and the methods they employ to succeed in what the theorists tell us is so difficult.

E. M. Estes said, “Leadership is the courage to admit mistakes, the vision to welcome change, the enthusiasm to motivate others and the confidence to stay out of step when everyone else is marching to the wrong tune.”

The American school system, of which I am a product, works from day one to build the skills society values. I believe the Australian school system now works in a similar fashion. What makes the American system relevant in this case is that American society values leadership qualities above almost all else.

Throughout my formative years I was continually in a leadership position, as president of most of my classes and captain of many sporting teams. Family members and friends would ask me why I was being singled out for leadership positions; my response was “I don’t know”. I actually had some idea, but perhaps an innate though unfounded belief in the need to protect my intellectual property kept me from telling them.

During high school the capitalist in me came out and I went to work. Six months later I was promoted over 22 others when the chain I worked for decided to appoint someone in each store to set the roster, allocate jobs and train new staff. I was appointed despite being part-time, one of the last hired and the youngest.

While at university I was president of California’s largest university club. This position confirmed my desire to lead commercial organisations. What was I doing that kept taking me to the top in these diverse environments?

Is there a common pattern to the approach I took to these different opportunities? The answer is yes, but modified for each situation. My secret weapon has always been the faith I show in the people around me. I base this faith on a realistic assessment of the contribution each person can make to the team; I then support the person with a healthy dose of moral and instructional support.

“For lack of training, they lacked knowledge. For lack of knowledge, they lacked confidence. For lack of confidence, they lacked victory.” Julius Caesar.

I believe people generally achieve closer to their potential as a member of my team than perhaps they have previously experienced. When people are able to work together to achieve more, they not only feel a great sense of accomplishment, but also often continue to motivate themselves to keep achieving more and more. People also love to achieve together and they truly believe in the leader who has helped them to rise to levels they thought were beyond them.

In 1984, at the age of 25, I migrated to Australia, having spent a fair amount of time with Australians overseas. How ironic was it for a loud and talkative Yank, who aspired to boldly lead organisations from the front, to come to the land with the ‘tall poppy syndrome’! Well, I never was one to shy away from a challenge.

In 1994, after 10 years in several different management positions within two organisations, a long sought-after goal was realised when I became Chief Executive Officer (CEO) for a top-10 Melbourne commercial law firm. In a unique position within the legal industry, which was not exactly known for allowing non-lawyers to run their firms (particularly with no executive partner to whom to report), I had the opportunity to put my years of learning into practice as a leader of a commercial organisation. I was very excited, to say the least! I am pleased to say I lived up to the challenge, turning around this embattled firm and eventually leading it to become part of a national company.

In 2002 I was privileged to become the first CEO for Fletchers Real Estate, at the time an 83-year-old firm with three offices, which had a proud history but a tired presence. Over the last 10 years I have been able to put my leadership skills to the test, leading this company towards the brave new future in store for our industry.

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