"All of the great leaders have had one characteristic in common: it was the willingness to confront unequivocally the major anxiety of their people in their time. This, and not much else, is the essence of leadership." (Galbraith, 1958) The question of whether leaders are born or made has been hotly debated for decades, evoking very strong opinions. Some people think leaders are born that way – naturally intelligent, strategic, visionary and charismatic, able to articulate a plan and rally their teams around it. Others believe that leaders are made – needing on-going experience, training, development and coaching/mentoring. Some say that leaders are both born and made – naturally intelligent and extroverted, enhanced with education, training, coaching and experience. Do you think a leader should be a hero or a negotiator? Out in front leading people or coordinating the work of the group? Destined to be a leader or developed to be a leader?
The way we think about leadership affects how we perceive the leaders around us. For instance, if we expect a leader to be a hero, we are likely to see someone who takes charge to save the day as a good leader and someone who asks everyone’s opinions and lets the group make decisions as weak. Alternatively, if we think a leader should be collaborative and focused on making sure decisions arise from the group, we would view someone who is directive as aggressive or a tyrant. In the same way, our beliefs about how people become leaders affect how we evaluate people’s leadership potential. Believing people are born leaders is likely to result in a focus more on selection (identify the right people) rather than on development (develop the people you get). On the other hand, believing that people are made into leaders by their experiences would be more likely to result in a greater focus on making sure people had the right opportunities to develop into leaders.