are leaders born or made?

Which came first - the chicken or the egg?
Do great leaders learn to be superb inspirational
figures? Or is it all in the genes and do people
with exemplary leadership skills have a natural
aptitude for the job? The old ‘nature’ versus
‘nurture’ question! Can we finally put this age-old
argument to rest and come to a conclusion?
Let’s go to basics first. Encyclopaedia Britannica
states: “Leadership - exercising of influence over others
on behalf of the leader’s purposes, aims or goals.”
Leaders are born not made:
The 19th century Great Man theory believes
that people inherit certain qualities and traits that
make them better suited to leadership, claiming
there are specific inborn characteristics which
predispose people to be and become leaders. There
is a significant difference between ‘learning a skill’
and ‘mastering one’, in the same way that some are
born with outstanding musical or athletic talents.
They will excel naturally in these areas but in others
they would be like a fish out of water.
This theory is supported by a 2013 research from
UCL (University College London). The study is the first
to identify a specific DNA sequence associated with
the tendency for individuals to occupy a leadership
position. Using a large twin sample, the international
research team, which included academics from
Harvard, New York University, and the University of
California, estimate that a quarter of the observed
variation in leadership behaviour between individuals
can be explained by genes passed down from their
parents. Although challenging the conventional
wisdom that ‘leadership is a skill’, the study also
admits that wisdom remains largely true, but “we
show it is also, in part, a genetic trait”. If leaders were solely born, what is the point of
the rest of us studying leadership or management?
Tereza Urbánková is a PR, communications
and marketing professional with over 15 years’
experience and proven success in industries
such as hospitality, retail, IT, defence, broadcast,
logistics and engineering. For the past eight
years she has been working and living in
London, UK; currently she is Head of Global
Communications for Amec Foster Wheeler plc,
a large international engineering consultancy.
Tereza also works as a freelance consultant in
the area of communications and PR. She speaks
Czech, English, Spanish and Russian and can
be reached on [email protected] or
through her LinkedIn profile.
Leaders are made, not born:
Behavioural Theories believe that people can
become leaders through the process of teaching,
learning and observation and that leadership is a set
of skills that can be learned by training, perception,
practice and experience over time. Leadership
learning is a lifetime activity. Good leaders seek out
development opportunities that will help them learn
new skills.
Can enrolling for a programme on management
and leadership make someone a leader upon
completion? Can passion, charisma, influence, the
ability to inspire and communicate, courage, selfdetermination and innovative mindset be taught? Will
the granting of a certificate and a few letters before or
after one’s name mean someone is a leader?
Soft skills can be explained, but not implanted.
The ability to share your vision takes more than
a sophisticated PowerPoint presentation. Leadership
can be learned by anyone with the basics. But an
awful lot of leadership cannot be taught.
The verdict:
Leadership is a set of innate traits, refined and
perfected over time with education, training and
Psychology Today has recently published: “The job
of leading an organisation, a military unit, or a nation,
and doing so effectively, is fantastically complex. To
expect that a person would be born with all of the
tools needed to lead just doesn’t make sense based
on what we know about the complexity of social
groups and processes… Yet, there is some ‘raw
material’, some inborn characteristics that predispose
people to be and become leaders.”
The best estimates offered by research is that
leadership is about one-third born and two-thirds
made. However, there are other points to consider.
For example, an aspect of being in the right place at
the right time. You may be a leader but it also matters
whether or not you are in the position within which
your talents can shine forth.
The discussion about leadership also needs to
define the environment. Are we speaking about these
Photo: Archive
major performers (born or made) in an organisation,
in an industry, in a society, in a country or in the world?
Not everyone can be a leader just like not everyone
can become a good actor. Some people will never
have that trait in them while others have the latent
ability and so can be taught how to lead. All the books
and courses cannot turn a follower into a leader. Henry
Kissinger said: “If you don’t know where you are going,
every road will get you nowhere.” A leader knows where
they are going and it is hard-wired in their thinking
while a follower only knows how to get somewhere by
reading a map or following someone else.
To be a leader in a structured environment, one
needs some formal training. Most people can learn
to manage well, start a business, lead a project team
since good management is based on rules - rules that
can be learned and mastered.
A leader also needs a mentor, someone aspiring to
whose leadership style they want to emulate.
Leadership is often a choice. A leader is a person
who comes forward to take the challenge. If a leader
rises up from the multitude, then that person was
already a leader to begin with. Should someone have
all the best training, nurturing and opportunities, but
would rather be hidden in the crowd...not a leader.
Leadership theories can be overwhelming. It is
evident you cannot really support one side and
negate the other. Although there are thousands of
books, decade’s worth of well-documented studies,
the debate can go on forever without arriving at a clear
By Tereza Urbánková české znění naleznete na našich
Leaders Magazine I/2015 51