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360 View in 360 Words: Leaders Are Born AND Made

Some months ago I read a post written by Colleen Sharen titled, Leaders Are Born, Not Made.

I have continued to think through this question, particularly as I have changed my views somewhat over the years. I felt it appropriate to provide further insight into this question of leadership, based on my response to the original blog.

It appears Colleen hit the right note to stimulate thought and some controversy based on the various responses from other readers that were posted in response. My belief is that leaders can be taught and developed, however there is a ‘minimum’ requirement that must exist to start with i.e. emotional intelligence, intelligence, physical, personality along with other skills, traits, behaviours and attributes.

What I am interested to discover (and I continue to look for this when developing and working with newer and more experienced leaders) is to what degree is the nature versus nurture argument a reality. The follow up comments in the blog generally agreed that leaders are made and born. This is consistent with my view, however I wonder why we continue to ask the question, inferring that it must be one or the other!

An individual requires a base level of potential and attributes to work from. Not every person can be a leader.

In fact, believing that anyone can be a leader potentially cheapens the dedication and challenges that effective leadership requires. Maybe being born with 60% (???) of the necessary attributes and potential (nature), with the remainder being learned (nurture) through development, role models, personal experience etc. is one theory. I believe that there must be some innate potential that is ingrained.

I have seen leaders truly develop into their roles, however in retrospect the majority of them possessed a reasonable level of the necessary leadership traits to begin with. What differentiated many of them was their willingness to face their reality and develop a few core gaps whilst focusing on their strengths.

The argument of nature versus nurture to me is not the key question. The bigger question, no matter where or how you obtained your role, is how effective are you as a leader?

What I do know is that not all leaders by name are leaders in practice – a title does not make you a leader. Unfortunately, this is more the norm than the exception.

4 replies
  1. Carmel McKenna says:

    Hey loved reading this one Steve, it’s like you read my mind. It’s interesting that people skills or emotional intelligence is perceived as the “soft skills” that should be managed by HR or a cousellor. However, if they were actually modelled, practiced and used by leaders, there would potentially be a lot less need for HR or a counsellor!!!
    Keep them coming…..

  2. Fabrizio Bolle says:

    Leadership is a pretty hard discussion, there are so many factors involved in being a successful leader that it is not that easy to understand how much is “born” and how much “made”….what I’m sure of is that it is both of them.
    Another interesting point is about being a leader by example vs. being a leader by title: in a company environment what is sure is that the title gives you the “power” to lead, but it doesn’t give you the “ability” to lead….and here’s the issue. How can we solve that? Tricky answer….maybe it should be an issue coming out from the performance appraisal process, however I’m not sure this is enough.

  3. Colleen Sharen says:

    Hi Coach Steve
    I’m glad to see that you have been stimulated by the debate around what makes a leader. I agree that it doesn’t really matter if leaders are made or born. Or not. Many leadership development types believe that this question impacts the choice of selecting for leadership or training for leadership. Of course, the answer to that question could be “both”.
    I’m going to challenge you to think a little differently. Maybe the question isn’t how are leaders made. The question isn’t the difference between leaders and managers. It isn’t the leaders/followers debate. The big question for me is how each of us can be effective in the role we happen to be occupying at the time. Sometimes we’re folllowers, sometimes leaders. Sometimes we’re born to it, sometimes we have to learn it. Sometimes we need to manage and control, sometimes we need to inspire and guide.
    For me what matters is that I make a difference, and I do it well, no matter what I’m doing. How about you?

  4. louiscollinsblog says:

    Hi Steve. This is a popular topic for debate and I’m not sure we will ever totally answer it to everyone’s satisfaction. My view is that we need to think about leadership in less ‘absolute’ terms. It is possible to be a great leader in one situation and less so in another (i.e. situational leadership). I have seen people step forward and take charge of situations (without formal authority) and very quickly gain people’s respect and trust, while in other situations they have been quite happy to step back and allow others to do likewise. Would I describe this person as a good leader. Well, yes I would, but I would not expect them to always be there taking the lead in every situation. Apart from situations being different, people sometimes simply experience different levels of motivation or energy. Again, I have experienced this in myself, where I have, on occasions felt inspired and excited by getting to grips with a particular problem, and really wanted to get things going. On those occasions, I have stepped in and taken a lead, hopefully in a way that others have been happy with, and we have done a great job together. On other occasions, if someone else shows up with higher energy or more desire, then I have been happy to follow their lead. Maybe we ‘overload’ the word leadership with too much expectation. I prefer to think of it as a process and/or as a role that can be adopted for a time and passed around from person to person, a bit like the baton in a relay race. Just one perspective on it I know.

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