Who is a leader? Currently, there are two main schools of thought on leadership, each with a different approach. According to the first school of thought, leadership skills are an innate characteristic. Therefore, only a select few select people are born leaders and can become true leaders. The second theory, on the other hand, claims that practically any person can become a leader and develop leadership skills.
A well-known expert in this field, Warren Bennis, the author of numerous books about leaders and leadership who studied the basics of leadership training in the best American universities and then became an advisor to several U.S. presidents, came to the conclusion that innate leadership skills do not play a major role in leadership training. Moreover, he believed the idea that leaders are born, not made is a myth which complicates the training of a first-class leader. Leadership involves, first of all, long and painstaking work on yourself, and other things are less important. Moreover, most recognized leaders in various fields themselves confirm the fact that their success is primarily due to their daily work and their focus on results.
When we read about the world’s great leaders, it sometimes seems that these leaders were born and not made. But that is not true, according to Warren Bennis. The basics, practical methods, and the most popular techniques can be studied and implemented, if a person truly wants it.
Are leaders born or made?
It must be admitted that certain inherent qualities do contribute to whether or not a person can rapidly learn leadership skills, but these are only initial conditions that do not abolish the need for people to work on themselves.
A number of studies have been carried out on the essential leadership skills. Here are the main conclusions made by scientists:
- Natural leadership skill does not depend on gender, and can be obtained by practically anyone via personal development and at various trainings, for example, the management & leadership trainings course provided by Atton Institute. The imbalance in the ratio of men to women in managerial positions has socio-cultural, rather than biological, reasons.
- There are several grades of leaders – large, small and medium. If we look at human qualities, there are very few characteristics that determine leadership potential. According to the results of the research, socially active, ambitious and inquisitive people are more inclined to become leaders. At the same time, the influence of the intellect on the development of leadership qualities is not decisive (high intelligence only increases the likelihood of a person to become a good leader by 5%).
- Leadership activity is a complex combination of genetic and environmental factors. Although some people can be born with an innate potential for developing leadership skills, according to the research, leadership qualities are essentially the result of training and practice.
If you ask prominent leaders about how they achieved their position, perhaps none of them will say that they were born leaders and did not have to do anything to become leaders. Instead, they will tell you their personal stories of development and formation, the work they’ve done and the difficulties they’ve had to overcome.
Leadership and Personality
When answering the question “are leaders born or made?”, many people believe that someone with a charismatic personality is very likely to become a leader. Surely, charisma attracts people, but it is not enough to be just charismatic in order to become a good leader; it is much more than that. This widely held but mistaken belief is probably a result of the fact that throughout world history, we have seen numerous charismatic people who also possessed great leadership skills. A few examples:
- George Washington;
- Winston Churchill;
- Fidel Castro;
- Nelson Mandela;
- Mahatma Gandhi;
- Henry Ford;
- Abraham Lincoln;
- Steve Jobs;
- Bill Gates.
All these people are very different; each of them has his own style and personality. Their leadership was the result of a purposeful movement towards some goal, personified by their personal experience and story.
The history of humanity has seen many outstanding leaders who did not have special education and did not acquire mastery of leadership in universities (for example, Steve Jobs or Bill Gates). Having no such opportunity, many of them made great efforts for self-education. While these people clearly saw their own goal, they knew how to share their dreams with others, and as a result their dreams came true. These people put themselves into the history books.
Our history shows us many examples of self-made leaders, but who were not the result of a successful combination of genetic predispositions. Leadership reflects the essence of a person and his or her goals and vision of the world; leadership requires an understanding of human nature.
Leaders first work on their own development, and only then start to organize others to achieve these goals. When a person understands who he/she is and clearly understands who he/she wants to become, then this leader begins a path to success. Before a person has fully realized those goals, when he/she has not created a way to achieve them, this person is merely "going with the flow." The first step in becoming a leader is to take life into your own hands and gain complete control over yourself.
Great leaders throughout history have always been self-made. Leadership is not the result of your genetic features or a certain type of personality. Leadership is a set of skills, most of which can be studied, developed and improved.
Every great leader has a unique story, but there is something that unites them: all these people have made themselves. They worked on themselves and achieved their goals and eventually became known. Leadership is not a set of innate qualities; it is leadership skills and experience that can be obtained as a result of training and daily hard work.
Learning how to become a leader
Vince Lombardi, the famous American football coach, in his works answering the question of who is a leader notes that no one is a born leader, but anyone can become a leader by overcoming difficulties and mastering leadership qualities. In order to achieve any goal, it is necessary to make an effort. No matter whether it is large or small, effort is needed to get a result. Anyone can be a leader; the question is, which kind of leader will you be?”
There was a study done of the activities of various successful people from different fields of science, technology, arts, etc. The study involved more than 100 scientists. The results were published in Cambridge University Press, and they showed the following: virtually all the results of the research prove that a successful person in any field is more the result of self-improvement work, rather than of innate qualities.
It was also found that experience is not an inborn quality and does not come naturally. Therefore, leadership is clearly not a quality which a person is born with, but a level of expertise which requires focused practical exercises and work on self-improvement.
In Warren Bennis's book, On becoming a leader, he describes what leadership skills are. Bennis claims that becoming a leader is a process that depends almost entirely on internal work, and is almost completely sovereign from the influence of external environmental factors.
No one questions whether people are born doctors, engineers, or teachers, yet when it comes to leaders some people still consider leadership to be innate. But clearly, based on the research, The idea that leaders are born and not made is deeply wrong. On the contrary, purposeful work in studying the fundamentals, methods, and practices of management is the key to becoming a successful leader.
Leadership development – never-ending self-improvement
The history of any success story is 1% talent and 99% work. So, almost any person can develop the necessary leadership skills. Purposeful work regarding your own development and the discovery of hidden qualities allows you to become a leader.
Leadership, like any other skill or qualification, can be developed through purposeful work. Hard work, willingness to take a risk and going beyond your comfort zone allow you to form the necessary leadership skills.
It is time for you to become a leader
The idea that leaders are born not made is a serious obstacle on a person’s path to developing leadership qualities. If a person believes leadership is exclusively genetic, he/she will not take initiative to study and thereby will not have the opportunity to truly develop leadership skills.
The most significant problems in mastering leadersihp are due to the fact that not all people can understand themselves and highlight their vision of the world. In addition, not all of them are prepared to work hard in order to achieve results and show their talent. In short, not all are willing to pay the right price for becoming a leader.
Leadership is not an inborn gift, but the result of putting in hard work to develop leadership skills and a clear vision of your goals. Daily work towards your goals will give you the desired result, sooner or later.
Should you ask the question "are leaders born or made?" Definitely not. Take control of your own life and make yourself a leader.