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Leaders: Born or Made?

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Leaders: born or made? While there is a very simple answer to this question, most people are so entrenched in their beliefs no amount of reason or logic will alter their opinions. But that’s never stopped me before… For my part, I would actually like to make an attempt at putting this useless debate to bed once and for all. So, what’s the answer? Both – some people are born with innate qualities that predispose them to being leaders, and other people, while not naturally gifted with leadership ability can acquire it. Moreover, all leaders, born or made, can improve their ability with desire, experience and effort.

If we’re to be honest with ourselves, as opposed to defending a particular position to suit our needs, we’ve all known born leaders… They are those affable individuals who possess charisma and presence, combined with the ability to make good decisions – people have flocked to them since an early age. They were your class presidents, team captains, club leaders, and the people who held virtually all the available leadership positions you can imagine early in life. They were those unflappable individuals who seemed to just have that “it” factor. They were the born leaders we all grew up with.

Before we move on, and as a caution to those who are natural leaders, natural ability will only take you so far. Leaders who rest on their laurels without making the effort to develop their skills will eventually be overtaken by those who view leadership as a professional skill to be developed and refined. As they old saying goes, “it’s not what you’ve been given, but what you do with it that matters.” Every person has to decide for themselves whether they’ll be an underachiever or a person who excels, and since you’ll be judged for your choice, my suggestion would be to choose wisely.

Moving on, we’ve all also known individuals who while perhaps not naturally gifted leaders, either fell into, or accepted leadership responsibility, and worked diligently to develop themselves into highly effective leaders. Leadership acumen can most certainly be taught, and it can also be ingrained in those willing to put forth the effort to learn.

You see, the only things that keep someone from becoming a sound leader are a lack of character, effort and desire. If those three qualities are present, everything else can be developed. I’ve personally witnessed the shy and introverted develop presence, the greedy become giving, the arrogant develop an authentic sense of humility, the foolish become discerning and wise, people who struggled with decision making learn solid decisioning skills, individuals who lacked domain expertise acquire it, people who were ego centric transition into servant leaders, and the list could go on…

Bottom line: It is not how a leader comes by their skill that is relevant. It only matters they possess the requisite skills for the job, and that they are willing to apply those skills for the benefit of those they lead. Remember, there is no perfect leader, no single right way to lead, and no one-size-fits-all formula for leadership. Let’s stop wasting time debating whether leaders are born or made, and focus on how to help them be better leaders regardless of how they arrived.

If you have an opinion on the born vs. made argument I welcome you to share your thoughts in the comments below…

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    Dean L. Forbes

    July 20, 2010 at 7:39 am

    Leaders: Born or made? I agree that the answer is both. Since I also agree that either one can improve his/her ability to lead, I always say that leaders emerge. In the right situations and the right times, the right leader will emerge.

    This is a very insightful post which proves again that leadership is a choice.

    Thank you.

    davidburkus

    July 20, 2010 at 8:02 am

    The endless debate between Great Man theorists and skills/behavior theorists has a new, genius answer: who cares as long as they are the right leader?

    sami

    July 20, 2010 at 11:32 am

    the leader must lead himself.
    Only made!

      mikemyatt

      July 20, 2010 at 6:07 pm

      While I agree a leader must lead themselves, I offer the caution that leaders only accountable to themselves are train-wrecks in the making.

      I meant this post to be more of a thinking exercise than a choosing-up sides and fighting till the bitter end drill. I tend to agree with David who noted above the somewhat ridiculous nature of the semantical argument by stating: "who cares as long as they are the right leader?"

      Thanks for sharing Sami….

    Dan

    July 20, 2010 at 7:23 pm

    Leaders take others to a destination (by definition). They need to know where they want to take their people (that comes from having knowledge, goals, and/or beliefs therefore is developed). It helps to have people that like and know how to lead (like is the born part), but born leaders without knowledge, goals and belief system are leaders for leaders sake and often end up creating a lot of trouble for themselves and those they lead.

      mikemyatt

      July 20, 2010 at 7:48 pm

      We are in agreement on all points Dan. The real key is not whether or not you are naturally gifted, but rather what steps you take in developing toward your full potential. And as you so astutely pointed out, even highly developed individuals who fail to lead with commitment and passion will not likely maximize their effectiveness as a leader. Thanks for adding to the conversation Dan..

    Oarabile

    July 21, 2010 at 4:08 pm

    Mike i guess it will be unrealistic to say leaders are born or made. It is my believe that we are born leaders but we don't rise to leadership as a result of that potential but out of our commitment to it. What we do to invest in our potential is what will distinguish us from the lime light to were we are supposed to be as leaders.

      mikemyatt

      July 21, 2010 at 5:00 pm

      Hi Oarabile:

      Thanks for your comment. I think the distinction you drew accurately points out the necessity of being committed to development in order to maximize potential as a leader. Thanks for adding to the discussion Oarabile…

    Principal (le?) learning » Leadership thinking

    September 26, 2010 at 4:19 am

    […] leaders – born or made? […]

    […] born with certain personality traits that allow them to be more comfortable in leadership roles. (See Mike Myatt’s post.) Without guidance, training and experience, however, native traits will not evolve in such a way as […]

    Vince Lopez

    April 29, 2011 at 5:43 am

    We are leaders in our own world, in our own friends and small social network. But in a larger organization, one has to acquire the necessary skills so as to become effective leaders.

    leaderwww.iCoachTeachers.co.uk

    January 28, 2013 at 6:53 pm

    […] leaders. As much as some don’t want to admit it, not everyone can or should become a leader (my take on the born vs. made argument). Simply desiring to be a leader doesn’t mean a person has the character, skill, and courage […]

    […] leaders. As much as some don’t want to admit it, not everyone can or should become a leader (my take on the born vs. made argument). Simply desiring to be a leader doesn’t mean a person has the character, skill, and courage […]

    Stew

    May 19, 2013 at 6:16 pm

    I fear the question is unresolvable. Quite simply, how can one prove that a “made” leader did not have natural leadership ability?

    I think that at least some innate ability is necessary, but even the most gifted leader can only reach his full potential with experience, mentoring and development. One the other hand, someone with no natural ability will at best become an OK manager, reliant on following process and protocol.

    Mike, in several of your articles, you allude to poor leadership and cite numerous examples. I posit that this is possibly a result of people without that innate ability, finding themselves in leadership positions. They may have been “trained” for these positions, but are simply not competent. You often state that leadership is a people-centric business, some people are simply not very good at “people”.

    Why does it matter? – It could save a company or individual a lot of wasted money, time and effort, trying to develop something that isn’t there.

    That’s my four-penn’th!
    Stew

    Mark C

    October 26, 2013 at 5:40 pm

    Great points Mike. I concur. I sure wasn’t born a leader and often talk myself out of any attempt to. But whenever I focus more on personal growth and step into opps, as scary as it is, I believe a bit more that it’s possible. Attitude and perspective are so key. Abuse of power or authority is lousy for all affected by it. To me that is a huge indication of a nonleader. Otherwise, both nature and nurture can contribute to a woman or man who learns to lead well and serve people.

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