Born or Made? A Thoughtful Look at the Origins of Leadership

Born or Made? A Thoughtful Look at the Origins of Leadership

“Some [people] are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.” – William Shakespeare

What makes a great leader? What is the defining difference that sets some people apart to become a leader, while others remain in the background, content to follow? Where does leadership originate? The origin of greatness has been debated for centuries: are great leaders born or are they made?

Opinions vary, with results scattered among those who definitely say “Born,” those who assert they are “Made,” and those who feel it is a combination. Over the course of four years, the Center for Creative Leadership surveyed 361 C-level executives on their thoughts about where leadership comes from, and the results are intriguing. According to their research, 19.1% of executives believe leaders are born, 52.4% believe leaders are made, and 28.5% believe it is a combination of the two.

Does it matter?

suit buttonActually, yes. But not for the reasons you may think. Understanding the differences between “Borns” and “Mades” can give insights into the ways they lead.

Borns believe that leadership qualities are innate—that leadership is based on a specific set of characteristics that can be harnessed into effective use. Mades, however, feel that experiences shape a person’s character and bring out leadership qualities that may have been previously dormant. These two belief structures can have a startling effect on how leaders interact with their employees.

Borns tend to utilize a more authoritarian leadership style. These leaders often prefer top-down, traditional hierarchies. Not wanting to appear weak, they may not be interested in seeking a consensus on decisions, asking for additional opinions, or allowing others to take a leadership role. Mades, however, are characterized by a more collaborative leadership style. They are more likely to make decisions through consensus, embrace more informal leadership styles, and place less importance on rules and mandates.

Additionally, Borns tend to put a higher emphasis on finding the right individuals for their team, as opposed to Mades, who are more likely to prioritize development of existing team members. This can have an effect on what leadership development opportunities are offered by an organization, and the type of individuals that may be selected for inclusion in a team.

But despite what leaders think, what’s the truth?

There isn’t a definitive answer—great leaders may be born or made. Compelling arguments can be made for both sides, and examples can be given that support each position. Regardless of their beliefs about the origins of leadership, most executives agree that there are a handful of specific qualities that make a leader effective, and that leadership training can improve or develop these traits.

Excellent Communication Skills

microphone communicationThe skills necessary to clearly communicate with those you lead is an essential part of leadership. Conveying goals, insights, and plans to others is crucial for a leader to be effective, and while the instinct to communicate may be innate, anyone can learn to improve their skills in this area.

Transparency

Transparency—or openness and accountability—is also crucial for leaders. Aligning your values with your actions resonates with others, and encourages them to “buy in” to the overall purpose of an organization. By using both candor and trust, a transparent leader can build a successful team more effectively than one whose decision-making and guiding values are more opaque.

Effective Decision Making

Leaders are most often called upon to make decisions for their team. Effective decision making, particularly in times of crisis, is a skill that leaders must possess. Being able to assess a situation, select a course of action, and follow through distinguishes the leader from the followers.

In addition to these three leadership skills, both Borns and Mades agree that there are other common elements in all great leaders. Leaders should be team-oriented, charismatic, and compassionate, for example.

What does all this mean?

Identifying your personal belief in the origin of leadership can give insight into your leadership tendencies and methods. For example, in hiring, do you place more value on a potential employee’s existing qualities, or are you able to see potential for development? Are you willing to take a chance on someone who’s a “natural,” over someone who has practiced their skill? While there is no clear answer to the Born versus Made debate, all leaders are enhanced by both the natural abilities they possess and their experiences. Capitalizing on leadership development opportunities can only improve a person’s leadership abilities, allowing both Borns and Mades to become the most effective leader possible.

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