Are Leaders Born or Are They Made? The Answer Of Course is “Yes”!

We have all heard the phrase, “that person is a born leader”. When we hear this it is easy to become enamoured if not envious of the person who is being described this way. However, if this person is believed to be born with these traits and therefor these trait are not subject to training and conditioning, then we must also be prepared to look at the potentially negative traits that a leader may be born with as well. These are known as Dark-side leadership traits and the presence of them can work to undermine a leader’s ability to get the most from those they lead. (Hughes, Ginnett, & Murphy, 2002). 

Eric is very much the type of leader described above. Given the numerous successes he has had over the years, all achieved with very little formal education, he has been described as, and has fully embraced the mantle of, a natural born leader. However, while Eric has experienced tremendous success over the course of the many businesses he has run, each has come at a great personal cost. He has been divorced twice and very few of his business relationships have outlasted the businesses themselves.

In the latter stages of his career, no longer willing to pay the personal price for business success, Eric endeavoured to find a better way to operate. His negative traits were not unknown to him, yet try as he might he simply could not seem to override them. Rather than continue to invest effort and energy into a failing proposition, Eric abandoned the strategy of trying to rewire his own personality.

Instead he entered into a partnership with another leader, one who had shown a great propensity for developing new skills. Eric carved out a role within the organization that played well to his naturally positive and constructive leadership traits. He then adopted a pig-headed discipline to stay out of situations where his darker traits had been activated in past companies that he operated.

To mitigate the operational gaps that this created, he began to develop the skills of the other leader mentioned, a gentleman named Allan. Allan had few natural leadership traits yet had shown a great ability to learn new skills. As the business scaled, areas where Eric would have traditionally stepped in only to become triggered were now outsourced to Allan. If this was an area Allan had no exposure to, outside consultants were brought in to train Allan on how to do this work.

This platooned approach of both trait and skills based leaderships principles has lead to the organization growing their profits by over 1600% in a five year period while also winning the firm multiple management and leaderships awards. It has also resulted in both Eric and Allan stating that this current company has been the most rewarding of their respective careers and lends heavy credence to the belief that leaders can be both made and born. 

Given the flexibility and optimization that it offers, I believe that this style of synergistic deployment of leadership traits and skills will be what defines the most successful organizations in the coming decade.

Hughes, R. L., Ginnett, R. C., & Curphy, G. J. (2002). Leadership: Enhancing the lessons of experience. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Companies.

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