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Leadership: Leaders, Followers, Environments by Art Padilla

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Opportunity

The third aspect in becoming a leader is opportunity. Some might wonder whether people are lucky or whether they make their own luck. But opportunity is more than being in the right place at the right time. There’s considerable evidence, both anecdotal and research-based, that becoming a leader involves more than simply luck.80 At the same time, opportunity is obviously related to societal norms, laws, and customs. For much of the history of the United States, neither a woman nor an African American had the opportunity to vote, much less to be elected to most public offices, including president, regardless of their ability or personality. In many developing countries, crushing poverty, malnutrition, and corruption are difficult to overcome even for the brightest young people. Societal norms, conditions, and laws can be unjust and unfair, but they nonetheless help determine opportunity.

There are also personal characteristics, inclinations, and preferences. Research indicates that many people are not suited for leading roles, for a wide variety of reasons.81 Perhaps they are uncomfortable in leading roles, or perhaps they are too indecisive or timid, or they lack the imagination, ambition, or physical energy. Another large fraction, according to self-reports and other studies, is not interested in the headaches and problems of managing others, so they choose other options.82

Preparation and experience are central to opportunity, including both formal schooling and on-the-job ...

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