5 Reasons why great leaders are made not born

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Are leaders born or made? This is one of the most often-asked question about leadership.

Research by psychologists has proved that leaders are ‘mostly made.' The best estimates offered by research is that leadership is about one-third born and two-thirds made.

The ability to effectively lead, motivate and direct a group of people – whether it's in business, sport or politics - requires a very complex set of skills, mostly acquired through experiences, self development as well as access to subsequent training.

To expect a person to be born a fully rounded leader with the ability to influence and direct their team just doesn't make sense based on what we know about group dynamics.

The fact that leadership is mostly made is good news for those of us involved in leadership development - leaders can indeed be developed. However – and this is the one third – there are some inborn characteristics that the great leaders have naturally which they use to their advantage. 

1. A Natural Born Leader?

Does this mean that introverts, persons of average social intelligence, or those of us who are not particularly empathic will not make good leaders? Certainly not. A great leader in recent history - the Rudi Juliani – who had leadership thrust on him in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks for which he was subsequently honoured.

Remember, most of leadership is made, not born. So, if you aspire to positions of leadership, then the best course is to embark on a leadership self-development plan. 

2. Doing the Right Thing

To be successful, all leaders – whatever their leadership style, type and so on - must choose the right action at the right time and “keep a steady eye on the ball”. They must be courageous, self-aware – and ensure the consistent support of their team of followers. This is a skill which needs to be practised. 

3. Introvert vs Extrovert

Research suggests that extraverts are consistently associated with obtaining leadership positions and being more effective leaders. Think of Richard Branson, Winston Churchill et al. There is evidence that being bold, assertive, or risk-taking can be advantageous for leaders. Leaders also need to be smart to analyse situations and figure out courses of action.

Intelligence is often associated with leadership. Indeed it is often considered a pre-requisite. But this doesn’t necessarily mean having a very high IQ or being a member of Mensa! Often super intelligent high functioning humans struggle to empathise, which is a critical part of being a great leader.

Emotional intelligence – the ability to understand social situations and processes - is the component of intelligence that is important for leadership. Some sort of empathy, or ability to understand what your team is feeling, is also advantageous for leaders (although much of this is learned). 

4. Lead by Example

This may be considered a natural born quality but examples only come through experiences. Noted leadership scholar, Bernard Bass, noted, "The leader must be able to know what followers want, when they want it, and what prevents them from getting what they want." 

5. Never Stop Learning

The well-known business coach, Hugo Heij says, “True leaders ensure they continue to develop their leadership skills throughout their careers, through learning and development materials and activities.”

Fortunately, there is tremendous interest in leadership and in leader development. Self motivated Leaders may consider embarking on their own leadership development programme.

For those new to Leadership an employer backed Leadership Curriculum programme would provide a great starting point on an individual’s learning journey. 

Kate Carter is Operations and Marketing Manager at Engage in Learning.

 
Blog postsAlan Wanders