Nature or Nurture or Choice, which is more important?
If we are to be a leader, we need to explore ideas of motivation, and ask questions about who we are. Are we predetermined by our nature and cannot possibly change who we are? Or are we solely the product of the society and the environment in which we grew up? How can we apply what we learn to our management and leadership roles?
Who we are is one of the oldest debates in our society. Nature refers to our innate or inborn qualities, and nurture refers to personal experiences or learned behaviors. There have been many great scientists and philosophers that argued firmly for dominance of one or the other, but the latest studies find that people are an usually close to a 50/50 blend of nature and nurture.
In recent years there’s been a growing realization that the question is not even as simple as that. Biology and upbringing aren’t two separate factors, one of which creates certain traits and one of which creates others; every trait is created by a combination of both factors, and it is impossible to unravel each trait and decide how much of each one can be attributed to which factor. It’s important that we realize that neither our genetic predisposition nor our experiences need shape our destiny. Not everything we do can be blamed, or has to be blamed, on the past. There is a third, more proactive option, and that is choice, or free will.
Viktor Frankl, famed neurologist and psychiatrist, explained that we all have the ability and freedom to choose how to act and how to react to whatever happens to us, and that we’re not just victims of circumstance. As a Holocaust survivor, Frankl realized that the most important attribute that helped people survive was their belief that they could still influence their own lives and contribute to humanity.
In The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey says that we are the product of our choices. “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space lies our freedom and power to choose our response. In those choices lie our growth and our happiness.”
Most people feel they are victims of circumstance, and wait for others to change first, before they will change. However, the truth is that the only person you have the control to change is yourself. So you need to change first, and then look at how you can help influence others.
Changing your situation is all about making proactive choices. Ask yourself, “If money were not an issue and I couldn’t fail what would I be doing?” Highly proactive people recognize their responsibility in their choices. They do not blame their circumstances, conditions, or conditioning for their behavior or actions. Being proactive means accepting that as human beings we are fully responsible for our own lives. The behavior and actions of proactive people are the result of their conscious choices based on their values, rather than their feelings or conditions.
If we look at the word responsibility as response-ability, we get a better understanding of what it means. It is an ability to choose our response. Reactive people are those who are constantly affected by their environment. When people are nice to them and treat them well, they feel good. When people give them a hard time, they feel grumpy. Proactive people are not unduly influenced by outside forces. Instead, they know what they want to accomplish, and by having a clear sense of purpose and mission they stay true to their convictions.
It’s also worth noting that sometimes, no matter how hard you try, you won’t be able to change certain things. There is a 10/90 rule of life. Ten percent of things are out of your control, so choose to focus your energy on how to respond to them rather than control them.
This is expressed well in the famous Serenity Prayer: “G-D, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
(Taken from The Prosperous Leader by Jacob M Engel, available on Amazon)