Whether leaders are born and not made is a discussion that has been debated for centuries and yet it still divides opinion today. Like many, on receiving this assignment my instinctive gut response was that they are! However, over the course of my exploration into the subject matter and in greater reflection of my own personal experiences, my contention is now similar to that of the famous and successful American football coach Vince Lombardi who said “Leaders are not born, they’re made. They are made by hard effort, which is the price which all of us must pay to achieve any goal that is worthwhile”
This sentiment will form the basis of my argument and my position on the topic. However, I will also raise and comment on supporting evidence for the notion that leaders are born and not made.
Before diving into this discussion, logic would dictate that we would first have to confirm a definition of a ‘leader’ and therein lies our first problem as the term ‘leader’ has a multitude of varying definitions. The same is true with leadership, where Stodgill says that “there are almost as many definitions of leadership as there are persons who have attempted to define the concept”.
With this in mind and for the purposes of this discussion I would like to go with Google’s simplistic definition, which states that a leader is “The person who leads or commands a group, organization, or country. A person followed by others”
So armed with a definition, lets first discuss the argument against my stance, let us look at the evidence for the notion that leaders are born.
Leaders are born – The Evidence
First up, I cannot sing. In fact, I would go as far as to say I am a terrible singer. At first glance you may be asking yourself, what relevance does that have to the point in hand. The significance is that I know for a fact that no amount of training, coaching or development will ever turn me into a great singer. I was simply not ‘born’ to sing. Perhaps through significant amounts of coaching and training, I could improve to a standard that would avoid inflicting physical pain on my audience – but one thing is certain I will never be a great singer. The same conclusion could be made of leadership; perhaps some people are simply not born to lead, whereas others genetically are.
The other anomaly, that supports the notion that leaders are born is the fact that history is littered with great leaders that were from backgrounds that provide no explanation to how and why they became great leaders..
Henry Ford is a good example of this. A pioneer of the industrial age and revered in history as one of the world’s great leaders. However, Ford did not come from a privileged past, nor had he received significant amounts of education or training that would lend itself to him becoming a great leader. Sangeeth Varghese, from Forbes describes Ford. “As a child, Ford was quiet and inward-looking and spent much of his time around his mother. She died while he was very young, leading him into depression. His father despised him for not showing any interest or skill in farm work and literally wrote Henry off, saying he would never amount to anything. Ford apprenticed as a low-level machinist at various places, not even earning enough for a decent living. He did not possess anything that could make him a born leader--no birthright, no pedigree and certainly no extraordinary attributes”.
Continuing this point, I think we’ve all met Henry Ford’s ‘types’ before, as in those people that have no obvious or apparent reason that explains their natural instinct to lead, and more prevalently are good at it. We have all known born leaders…They were the affable individuals that seemed to ooze charisma, exude confidence and charm and in which the rest of us were naturally drawn to since an early age. They were our ‘Head boys, team captains, club leaders, and the people who held all the...