Leaders are Born, Leaders are Made — Two Leadership Myths

Toddler Wearing Head Scarf in Bed

False Dichotomy Makes For A Confusing Myth About Leaders

If you’ve look at any literature on leadership, you’ll certainly have come across the statement — Leaders are made. You have almost certainly come across the term “ born leader” as used in common speech. Both are equally wrong and misleading in ways that have practical implications, particularly for leadership development.

In Western society we have a tendency to want to dichotomize things. Something is one thing, or the opposite. Leaders are born. Leaders are made. Like the nature-nurture controversies in Psychology, though, the truth lies somewhere between the two poles.

First, it is certainly true that some personality traits and characteristics (which may in fact be somewhat (but not entirely genetically determined) can make it easier or, for that matter, harder to be successful in leadership roles. Or, that very early experience in childhood may predispose some people to be better in the leadership role. So, there is a contribution of things “born”, or things that operate in early life.

Second, there’s also no question that people develop as leaders over time, and they are “made”, supported by others, and improved by their own effort. That does NOT mean that everyone is equally able to function in a leading role, or equally able to develop into successful leaders.

When you understand that effective leadership involves things that are learned, but also related to a person’s ability to learn those skills (and personality approaches, beliefs formed early in life, etc), then it changes how one goes about developing leaders. Obviously the best allocation of resources to develop leaders within an organization will take into account potential (including “born” components), and skill building (the “made” component).

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