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Article: Are Leaders Born Or Made? Related Resources

Are Leaders Born Or Made?
By: Eric Garner

There is a mystery about how leaders become leaders. Some people are born with all the right qualifications but don't make it. Others are born into very lowly positions and rise to lead millions.

It is hard not to conclude that there is no simple, one-size-fits-all path to leadership, but that leadership depends on a complex and mysterious mix of variables.

Here are 7 of those variables.

1. Traits. Most people agree that their leaders should demonstrate certain traits. It's just that not everyone can agree what they should be.

For example, when a symposium of corporate heads were asked for their top 10 leadership qualities, they suggested tenacity, passion, persuasiveness and confidence, but didn't mention the one quality of leadership that Walt Disney prized above all others, courage.

In another survey for Ajilon, 600 employees voted their top leadership quality as "leading by example", followed by ethics.

It seems that there are even variables within this variable.

2. Leadership Drives. David McClelland says that, to be a successful leader, you need spadefuls of the drive to power.

Even with all the qualities mentioned in (1) above, if your main drive at work is for affinity or achievement, rather than power, you won't make it to the top.

To be an effective leader, you actually have to want to be in charge of others.

3. Made or Born? There is an unresolved debate about whether leaders are born or made.

Some people argue that birth into certain environments pre-destines some of us to be leaders. This is the principle behind hereditary monarchies and business dynasties.

Others argue that merely being first-born creates leadership qualities of its own. All the following were first-born: Winston Churchill, William the Conqueror, George Washington, Alexander the Great, Joan of Arc, F.D.Roosevelt.

Of course, that could be a quirk of nature and doesn't account for mesmeric leaders who were not first-born, such as John F. Kennedy.

4. Education and Formative Experiences. When leaders of business are asked what formative experiences influenced them most to become leaders, many recall traumatic events in their childhood or youth that inspired them. Others took a more normal path by attending the most prestigious business schools.

On the other hand, education may only have a limited role in creating leaders. Thomas Neff and James Citrin found that of the top 10 business leaders in the USA, only 2 - Jack Welch of GEC and Lou Gerstner of IBM - had business degrees. The rest were educated in non-business subjects or, like Bill Gates of Microsoft, didn't complete their studies.

5. Experience or Competence? Nobody wants a leader who doesn't know what they're doing. The stories of incompetent generals in wars from the Crimea to World War One are legendary.

However, as Professor Fred Fiedler has discovered, experience and competence serve leaders in different ways.

Fiedler found that, in high-stress situations, leaders call upon experience before competence. In low-stress situations, it's the other way round, with intelligence being more valuable than experience.

6. Circumstances. History shows us again and again that certain people come to the fore when the circumstances are right.

Often these are people who were failed leaders, voices in the wilderness, or discarded men and women, like the Churchill of 1940.

Somehow, a moment arrives when the circumstances and the individual seem made for each other.

7. Followership. The final variable in the leadership mix is the willingness of people to accept their leader and follow him or her.

Soren Oberg calls this a leader's charismatic power. It has little to do with traditional power, such as status, connections and rewards and more to do with their visibility, their sexual attractiveness, and their ability to empathize with the needs of their followers.

One other key to charismatic power is the leader's ability to communicate with their followers in symbolic and mythical terms.

Trying to analyse leadership is a bit like dismantling a Stradivarius violin to see where its essence comes from. You spoil its beauty and are none the wiser.

Perhaps it's best to leave the last word to John McGregor: "Leadership is not a property of the individual but a complex relationship among all the variables."

About the Author:

(c) Eric Garner, If you enjoyed this article, why not subscribe to our FREE 10-day email course on Leadership Skills by mailing And remember! There are lots more FREE training resources at Manage: To get it right! Train: to stay on top! Learn: to be a success!

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