Thoughts on Leadership: Leaders, born or made?

“If we treat people as they are, we make them worse, but if we treat them as they ought to be, we help them become what they are capable of becoming.”  -Johann Wolfgang von Goethe People often ask the same three questions about leadership:

  1. Can anyone really become a leader?
  2. Is leadership a quality you either have or don’t have?
  3. Aren’t leaders born that way?

On the surface, it may seem that leadership is innate. But it’s not. Leadership is developed over time. In fact, the best leaders are those that have grown through experience, not those who were born into powerful positions.

Look around and you’ll notice that more leaders are created through time than just born that way. The U.S. military, for example, is full of recruits who often – though not always – come from troubled childhoods. Many in the Army, Navy or Marines have not attended college. Most often, they would seem to be missing the essential ingredients to succeed, yet many times these recruits go on to display great leadership as their careers evolve.

As Warren G. Bennis says in a famous quote about leadership, "the most dangerous myth is that leaders are born, that there is a genetic factor to leadership.”

Leadership takes a lifetime to learn. There are always ways to improve, skills to pick up, and lessons to learn. A leader constantly reflects on life experiences, learns from them and builds them into skills. That collection of skills comes together to produce results.

“Leaders are made rather than born.”

The only born ingredient in the leadership recipe is desire. The desire to lead creates the motivation that drives leaders to lead. Everything else they learned along the way.

So the next time you’re admiring someone who would seem to be born with leadership qualities, think about what life experiences may have contributed to their strengths. Reflect on your own challenges, how you reacted, and how you can learn from those experiences.

This process is essential to your leadership success.