Are Leaders Born or Made?

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

So the question that many seem to want to debate to the death is: Are leaders born or made? While there is a very simple answer to this question, most people are so entrenched in their beliefs that no amount of reason or logic will alter their opinions. But that’s never stopped me before…so for my part, I would actually like to put 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 that posses charisma and presence combined with the ability to make good decisions that people have flocked to since an early age. They were your class presidents, homecoming and prom court members, 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 that 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. 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 that 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 that 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.

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2 Responses to “Are Leaders Born or Made?”


  1. 1 Jacob D. Schwartz January 20, 2010 at 9:19 pm

    I agree 100% with Mike on this: leaders are born and made.
    I just wanted to add a couple more things. First, a leader must have a sincere and apparent passion about what ever it is that he/she is leading others to do. That passion leaks out into others, is contagious, and very motivating. For example, my father could motivate others to pick up a shovel and pick ax and help him dig trenches by his passion for getting to the end result of the work. Second, it helps if the leader has credibility in what it is he/she is leading others to do. A gentlemen I work with today has more experience in our industry than anyone around, has sat on numerous boards, has written many policy programs, and has been the president of numerous industry related associations. He therefore has an enourmous amount of credibilty and people look to him for answers and guidance and they yield to him when he sets the direction.

  2. 2 Dave Collins January 20, 2010 at 11:18 pm

    MIke,

    Every once and a while we need something to kick us in the pants and remind us that we can stretch and attain more. Thanks for a thoughtful and timely article.


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