Are You Born a Leader or Made into One?

The United States is in a bit of a tailspin, desperately seeking stability and strength and looking to our leaders, both past and present, to move our country from chaos and division to order and unity.


Born or made?

A common question that comes up in leadership conversations is whether leaders are born or made. Some think certain people are born with the intelligence, charisma and articulation to lead, while others adamantly believe leadership is much more than genetics.

The Center for Creative Leadership, a research firm, surveyed top leaders globally and found the majority (52.4%) are convinced leaders are made, believing leadership is more than just “genetics.” A minority (19.1%) believe leaders are simply born. The remaining 28.5% are certain it's a combination of these factors—leaders may have some intrinsic, inherent skills (outgoing, intelligent and confident) but have also worked hard to gain valuable experience, perspective and knowledge to maximize their successes.

“Successful CEOs start with a set of leadership traits that have been associated with strong leaders, such as ambition, drive, emotional stability, emotional intelligence and extraverted personalities that can rally support and action,” said David Brookmire, Ph.D., an executive leadership coach. “However, just possessing these traits doesn’t mean you’ll be a great leader. Leaders must also learn from experience.”

To prepare for the requirements of their challenging roles, Brookmire said leaders must develop the prerequisite competencies—shaping strategy, business acumen, seasoned judgment, powerful communications, operational excellence and the ability to inspire others—which are all learned by doing.

Representatives for the Center for Creative Leadership agree with Brookmire.

“When you make sure that people have adequate access to developmental experiences, coaching, mentoring, training and other leadership experiences, they have the opportunity to learn more and become better leaders. Access to development has also been shown to increase employees' job satisfaction, organizational commitment and performance.”

The Jack Welch Management Institute, however, stresses both genetics and leadership development are key components to effective leadership.

5 traits of leadership 

JWMI says leadership is comprised of five essential traits. These traits do not include integrity, intelligence or emotional intelligence—these are character qualities they say are baseline requirements of any leadership position, or givens.

The five traits the institute focuses on include positive energy (the capacity to get through good times and bad with an upbeat attitude), the ability to energize others, edge (the ability to make tough calls), talent to execute and passion.

Positive energy and the ability to energize are hard-wired, basically personality, according to JWMI. Passion also appears to be inborn.

“Some people just seem to come fully loaded with intensity and curiosity; they naturally love people, life and work. It’s in them. It is them.”

Edge and the ability to execute are different, says JWMI.

“New hires rarely show up with them in polished form, and even middle managers benefit from training in both. But the best teacher for these two traits is trench warfare. That’s because edge and execution are largely a function of self-confidence.”

So, while it is absolutely true some leaders are born with personality traits that make leadership come more naturally, continued growth and development are vital to effective leadership. Regardless of how you believe leaders become leaders, you can always make an effort to become a better one.

12 leadership actions

So what can you do to develop your potential in leadership? In Entrepreneur Magazine, Murray Newlands, an entrepreneur, business advisor and online marketing professional, has a list of 12 actions you can implement in daily life to become a better leader:

1. Be a positive role model. Exhibit actions that you want your team to emulate.

2. Be humble. Share the credit for successful projects with your team.

3. Practice effective communication. Give employees your attention, keep an open mind and make eye contact as they speak.

4. Find a mentor. A confident leader realizes there's always more to learn.

5. Be emotionally aware. Wise leaders strive to be aware of the sensitivities of others.

6. Encourage creativity. Let your team know you're open to their ideas.

7. Be passionate about your work. Leaders must demonstrate a commitment to the goals of the company.

8. Know your team. Doing so will demonstrate you care about them as human beings and do not consider them just another name on the company payroll.

9. Think positive. A positive outlook will help your staff remain encouraged and create an overall upbeat environment where people will want to remain.

10. Be yourself. Seek advice on how to enhance your weaker skills and utilize your stronger assets.

11. Study past leaders. Take a look at those who have previously held your position. Examine why they failed and why they succeeded.

12. Challenge your staff. Learning and mastering new challenges will give your staff a sense of accomplishment.

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