Leaders are made, not born

Leadership. One of those things our ancestors probably didn’t worry too much about.

‘How are great leaders splitting their time between farming for the livelihoods and supporting the causes they care about?’

Not a question at the time, I’m sure.

But since theories of leadership took flight in recent times we’ve fascinated over the question of whether great leaders are born or made.

Is there something genetic that makes a person ideal to oversee and direct others? Or is it something that they grow and get trained to do over time?

A brief history of my knowledge and interest in leadership

0-19 years – none

20-29 years – some (university degree in Business Management, with courses in culture and leadership. Quite abstract)

30-39 years – growing sense of unease that I didn’t have what it took to be a leader, because I wasn’t captain of the football team at school, wasn’t running my own department and only managed matrix teams in project environments, none of whom I had formal authority over.

40 years – present – all in. Signed up for a leadership role. Unsure if I was born to be a leader or not. Convinced I wasn’t.

What was I thinking?

Google ‘leadership styles’ and you’ll get a lot of choices, all very similar. This site is just one of them.

It describes 5 leadership styles:

  • Authoritarian (you tell people what to do),
  • Participative (you include everyone in decision-making),
  • Delegative (you let others decide what to do)
  • Transactional (you employ a carrot and stick approach to motivation)
  • Transformational (inspire employees with a vision, then empower them to achieve it)

Having the ability and confidence to use all of these styles effectively would be amazing.

But as I’ve been finding out today on a leadership course with Mindflick, we all have natural preferences for mindset and behaviour, and we tend to use certain styles without thinking.

Let’s use ‘without thinking’ as a proxy for ‘we were born with’.

For us to be an effective leader, able to respond to all situations with the appropriate style, we need to have been born with the ability to do all of these things. How realistic is this?

Mindflick also showed us that our natural tendencies are typically limited and don’t cover all the mindset and personality styles. We just can’t be born being naturally able to do everything.

Which takes us right back to the opening question and allows me to say, albeit crudely, and with no references to back this up, that leaders, real leaders, who are able to get the best out of their people in all circumstances, can only be made.

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