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Are Leaders Born or Made?

We’ve all heard of a “born leader”, or someone who seemed to walk out of the womb in charge of things. We’ve also heard of the “self-made” man or woman, who made the journey from rags to riches through tenacity and personal growth.

What Makes a Great Leader?

Adjacent to the debate as to whether nature or nurture are most responsible for our actions is the question about leaders: Are they born, or made?

There are compelling case studies on both sides of the issue. In fact, the topic even made it as a subject for debate at the 2016 American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy (AACP) Interim Meeting in Tampa, FL.

So which is it? Can a shy introvert become an emboldened leader with the right opportunity and coaching? Or is leadership only for the truly tenacious? It turns out, it’s a little bit of both… with a catch.

Understanding the Attributes of a Leader

To understand how a leader can be born or made, it’s essential to understand what qualities we attribute to a great leader.

leaders and leadership

We’ve all had that boss or project manager who was the leader in title only. For the purpose of this debate, that category has to be eliminated altogether. So what is a leader?

Leadership qualities can vary based on each leader’s role, but there are a few things that are necessary regardless of industry or job duties.

This includes:

  • Possessing positive energy that can motivate other workers to perform well
  • Encouraging effective communication– including active listening
  • A passion for results, but an empathy for reality
  • The ability to get things done and make difficult decisions that reflect the efforts of the whole team

A great leader is often energetic, outgoing, fair, honest, and loyal to their team and their business. They set the pace for an environment in which people don’t just “get things done”, they want to succeed.

Some Leaders Are Born

Some people just come with a “can do” attitude that lends itself well to leadership roles. Whether nature or nurture, they have a motivational exuberance that easily rubs off on others.

They’re calm, rational, and don’t make decisions without learning all the facts. Everyone longs for this type of person to be their leader, because they know they’ll be treated fairly in a positive environment.

Many people feel that extroverts make good leaders, and there may be some truth in that. People with a Type A personality often feel more comfortable taking charge of a situation. 

That being said, being an introvert and an assertive person are not mutually exclusive. Just because someone doesn’t step to the front of the charge doesn’t mean they lack the ability to perform the duties of a leader.

In fact, when it comes to making well-rationalized decisions, introverts tend to get a reputation for “taking their time” and “thinking on it” rather than acting boldly.

Essential Qualities

The Great Man Theory gained popularity in the 1840s. Commonly linked to historian Thomas Carlyle, this theory suggests that leadership qualities such as honesty, compassion, and vision, are born within us. When the situation calls for it, our inherent leadership skills will blossom forth naturally, allowing each of us to lead within our natural capacity.

There is some truth to this, of course. We’ve all been in a situation where our particular skill set and talents have been very helpful to someone in need.

But does that mean leadership can’t be taught?

The Self-Made Leader

Businesses spend millions of dollars educating their team members in hopes of nurturing the next great leader. From workshops to online classes to empathy training sessions, workers in leadership positions are constantly being taught how to be a leader.

leadership education

One might think, given the popularity of the Personal Growth industry, that leaders can only be made, carefully, and with the investment of a few thousand dollars per session.

Again, there is some truth in this, as well. Many business owners and psychologists agree that leadership skills are something that must be frequently tuned.

Just as a top-level athlete needs to practice to stay on the top of their game, a top-notch leader must continue their growth.

A Very Important Trait in a Leader is…

Self-awareness is one critical trait in a great leader. Self-awareness allows leaders to gauge where they need growth, and find opportunities for enriching their skills.

Regardless of industry or profession, we all need to understand our strengths and challenges, and a leader who can identify these traits within their team as well as within themselves are truly valuable.

Whether that means brushing up on active listening skills, or creating a workflow that inspires more collaboration, a truly great leader should take the initiative for their own growth. 

It’s true that some people will require more growth opportunities than others. It’s just as likely that some people will need to focus on certain areas more than others.

One leader can be naturally empathetic, while another is already confident in their assertiveness.

Read also: Essential personality traits and qualities of a Successful Entrepreneur

Some Food for Thoughts

There are also outside factors which can impact anyone’s leadership skills. Being ill, stressed about a personal matter, or even just losing sleep can make a leader less effective.

There can be areas in which a leader is out of their element, making them uncertain and less positive or confident. Even the best leaders are very human, and can temporarily lose the energy and drive that make them such a powerful force.

A leader must want to lead in order to do so well; therefore, a person who is distracted or disinterested isn’t going to be successful.

Are leaders born or made? It seems that an equal argument can be made for both. While some people are born with traits that make them a natural choice as a leader, they may lose their effectiveness as a leader without self-awareness and coaching.

As with many skills, leadership must be continuously nurtured for the greatest success of the leader, the team, and the business as a whole.

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