By: Matt Sedlock on October 29th, 2018

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Developing Future Leaders: Are Leaders Born or Made?

Employee Relations

Are leaders born or made?

This is an interesting question that comes up often in client discussions around developing future leaders. For decades in our society, this has been a lifelong debate of nature versus nurture. It’s as if we think that once we can answer this question, we can unlock the mystery/challenge of identifying and leveraging effective leadership.

If you look hard enough, you can find examples of leaders that support both perspectives. There are clearly people who inherit qualities and traits that make them better suited to be a leader. While on the other hand, there are people who can emerge into leadership roles or become leaders through learning, teaching, experiences, and observation.

Is there a way that leaders can be both born and made?

Certainly, and I will explain why.

It is true, some people are just born leaders based on inherited qualities and traits, including coming from a history of leaders in the family. Research shows that some inherited traits such as extraversion, intelligence, risk-taking, being bold, and being assertive are linked to effective leaders. The concept of innate traits that lead to successful outcomes can also be seen in people who are natural born artists, musicians, and athletes.

However, if all leaders were born into leadership, then that would likely rule many of us out as potential effective leaders. The good news is that there is significant research that shows that effective leaders can be made.

As I have already briefly explained, leaders can emerge through learning, experiences, and teachings. Through life and work experiences it is very easy to see that someone can learn from their mistakes and successes and use those experiences as a growth tool toward becoming an effective leader.

It is up to each person to learn from their experiences as to which management practices they want to adopt in order to become the type of leader that they aspire to be. While we offer leadership training, leadership behavioral assessments like DiSC and Myers-Briggs, and even coaching, we both know effective leadership won’t happen overnight.

Rather, leadership is a process of lifelong endeavors, learning from experiences and observing successful leaders around you. Sure, you can learn leadership qualities and study leadership, but leadership requires action and integrity.

What leadership opportunities are you providing for individuals on your team to step up?

When developing your future successors, I encourage you to ask them (and even yourself) regularly:

  • “Who do you want to be as a leader?"
  • "How do you show up to work every day?"
  • "How do you have a positive impact on those around you and especially those who work for you?”

The need for leadership is going to differ based on the culture or environment. The recognition of situational leadership needs can heavily influence how an effective leader may react or go about making decisions. A leader might not always lead through words/vocalization, but rather through actions.

“Leadership is practiced not so much in words as in attitude and action.” - Harold Geneen, former President of ITT

I know for myself that I was not born a leader, yet I have a distinct way of being able to read someone and the situation. Now, you are probably thinking what does reading people have to do with becoming a leader, right? It turns out that over the course of my life the ability to read someone has affected how I communicate with others and lead them to a positive outcome. While I haven’t been known to be a strong vocal leader, I have lead through deliberate actions in all aspects of life, while making good choices and not being afraid to make decisions. I have always tried to set the right example by working hard, being a team player, and going the extra step by taking initiative to get things done. Early in my career, I observed that leadership and learning go hand in hand in order to achieve results.

Leadership is a gift and a choice wrapped into one. There will be born leaders and those leaders who will be made, but it’s what those individuals do to influence, impact and inspire those around them that matters most.

Born leaders should leverage the traits that they were fortunate to be born with and use them to lead toward their articulated vision. Made leaders should stay curious and learn through experiences, teachings, and observations in order to bring those around them along with them on their journey.

The advice I give to my clients is the best leaders will be those that are born with leadership traits, but recognize that they are on a lifelong journey of learning to become the best leaders they can be. And, our job is to help guide the path…