We’ve all heard the old adage “(S)He’s a born leader.” This saying is something I have personally heard all throughout my life. However, when really thought about, this sends a pretty strong message that people are born leaders and if such people were born leaders then that what makes someone a “born” leader? Is it inherited? If my mom is a “born” leader, does that automatically make me a leader? What if I do not want to be a leader? If I was born to be one, will I be one anyway? This seems kind of silly to me, but that’s just my opinion.
The trait approach was studied to determine what makes great leaders (Northouse, 2013). Northouse (2013) points out five major characteristics that are considered “major” leadership traits, which include intelligence, self-confidence, determination, integrity, and sociability. I agree that these are all good traits that encompass some other good traits (sociability would include charisma, outgoingness, friendly, for example) for a leader to have. However, are all of these traits and the traits fall under them traits that we are born with? Let’s think about this. Are you born with self-confidence? Or is that something that is fostered in you as a child by the way your parents raise you? Anyone who has taken any developmental or social psychology courses would be knowledgeable in such theories like Bandura’s social learning theory. Bandura conducted a very popular experiment with a Bobo doll on aggressive behaviors. You can watch a short clip HERE. How about Skinner’s behaviorism approach? Jean Piaget was a developmental psychologist who suggested that children learn through their experiences and interactions. So, therefore, can’t these leadership traits be learned instead of born? There are some traits that I think are definitely inherited such as intelligence. However, of the five traits mentioned by Northouse, that is the only thing that I can see as something that is inherited.
I just spent the last four years of my life working in a daycare on a military base. I have spent a lot of time with children from the ages of 3-6 years old and in my four years of working there I can tell you that some kids are just smarter than others. Some of this is because of the time they spend with their parents and some of it is just because they are more gifted than others. I think most of us can relate to such things just in our education as children. Some kids had “it” and some kids didn’t. Through working with children at this age, I have learned though, that they are giant sponges. Some of them have been socialized well and some have not. Some have confidence and some do not. I think that to an extent, this can be something they are “born” with, but I really and truly believe that children are largely influenced by the interactions they have in their lives. If Jenny is always encouraged to try things on her own and she is encouraged to be brave and talk to that little girl across the playground that she wants to play with, if she is encouraged from a young age to stand up for herself, if her caregivers let her fail and teach her how to deal with it and if they praise her successes, this is going to create a much different persona than Jimmy whose parents do everything for him and he is not encouraged to be social with other kids his age and he is never taught how to deal with success and failure.
The bottom line is that yes, there are certain traits that we are born with that assist in our leadership abilities. However, many of the important traits listed are traits that can be learned or fostered from a young age based on a child’s environment and their parent’s views and how they raise their children. Thus, as of now, I don’t really subscribe to the notion that there are natural born leaders. There are many ways to become a leader. Traits are important, but just because you possess a certain trait does not mean that you were born
Northouse, P.G. (2013). Leadership: Theory and Practice. Los Angeles: Sage Publications
Bandura original footage [Web]. (2009). Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jWsxfoJEwQQ