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Are Leaders Born or Made?

We have all experienced this person, the person who just seem to emerge from the group. That person who always displays confidence, knows what to do, and knows what direction we should all take to complete a task. For some reason, this person has an irresistible pull on others that make them just want to follow. Maybe you are that person. Wether it's you or someone else, I like to refer to that person as a natural born leader. Is it something innate about this person that causes he or she to behave this way, or did he or she complete an amazing leadership program that taught them to behave in this manner. In the 19th and early 20th centuries “great man” leadership theories were highly popular. These theories asserted that leadership qualities were inherited, especially by people from the upper class. In earlier years there was an overarching thought that leaders were indeed born. Some felt great men were born and not made (in those days, virtually all business leaders were men). However, today, the great man theory is a popular foil for a so-called superior model. The great man theory evolved into into a trait theory, and it did not make assumptions whether leadership traits were inherited or acquired. So the question still remains and there still doesn’t seem to be a clear answer.

Some researchers suggest that leaders are made and not born. They imply if you create the right environment that you can teach one to be a leader. This story illustrates how an organizational culture that is aligned with the value of leader development facilitates the development of many leaders. Based on my own experiences, I would have to suggest the answer to the question of whether leaders are made or born, is both. I’ve experienced the person who was born with it, and the person who was trained. And I am a combination of both. In my earlier years, I was the person who emerged from the group, but as I grew older I was also involved in environments that helped to mold and encourage my traits and skills. These environments helped me to hone and build upon what was there and helped me to learn somethings I did not think I previously possessed.

Regardless of whether leaders are born or made or some combination of both, it is unequivocally clear that leaders are not like other people. Leaders do not have to be great men or women by being intellectual geniuses or omniscient prophets to succeed, but they do need to have the "right stuff" and this stuff is not equally present in all people. Leadership is a demanding, unrelenting job with enormous pressures and grave responsibilities. It would be a profound disservice to leaders to suggest that they are ordinary people who happened to be in the right place at the right time. Maybe the place matters, but it takes a special kind of person to master the challenges of opportunity. Let us not only give credit, but also use the knowledge we have to select and train our future leaders effectively. I believe that in the realm of leadership (and in every other realm), the individual does matter.


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