[October 30, 2019] The idea that leaders are made and not born is one I’ve advanced in the pages of my leadership blog since its inception. It has been one of my core principles; based on overwhelming evidence across time and cultures. While new light emerges on the influence of our genetic makeup on leadership, nothing specific has materialized to sway our opinions; yet anyway.
Many of my colleagues in the military are seeing patterns emerge that substantiates this claim. Several arguments expand the idea that leaders are made, not born.
First, if leadership were innate, why are there so many styles of leadership? Why there is so much deviation in how leaders solve problems, and why is there no specific definition that transcends cultures? These are only a few questions that lead to the conclusion that what we learn is the core of successful leadership.
Second, leaders are not leaders alone. If we were to peer inside the leader-follower dynamic, we would certainly conclude that leadership occurs within a specific social context. This context (or outside conditions) affect the perceived effectiveness of leaders and explains why the best leaders also surround themselves with people who are competent and committed.
Third, leadership development works. If leadership were inborn, then programs that help leaders would have no impact. But the opposite is true. When leaders make a conscious effort to improve upon their skills, things improve for them. Facing their fears, seeking feedback, reading, and learning, and practice-practice-practice are keys to improving a leaders’ ability to win friends and influence people. All of us have seen talented people who are lazy and lack passion.
The old nature-nurture argument continues to influence our view of leadership, and that is, of course, a good thing. To continually discuss the push and pull of “nature” allows us to refine and enhance our argument that leaders are made, not born. That is, however, not the end.
New theories are emerging from the world of psychoanalysis that suggests that there is some influence on our leadership capabilities that may be innate. This work, mostly through the study of babies and young children, shows leadership emerging as a significant trait early in life. This emergence is well before we could expect it to be — more on this discussion later in another article.