Are leaders born or made?
Is leadership ability something you are born with, or is it something that you can learn?
This question is important because, depending on the answer, you are either a leader only by the luck of the draw or it’s something almost anyone, including you, can learn.
What’s the answer? Here’s the truth:
Leaders are made, not born. While some people may seem to “naturally” have certain qualities that some believe make a great leader, almost anyone can learn the principles, qualities, and skills they need to be a great leader.
It doesn’t matter if you have all the qualities or skills of a great leader – yet. What matters is if you are willing to put in the work to become a great leader.
Table of Contents
Why is there a myth that people are either born as leaders or not?
This myth likely comes from a couple of misconceptions:
It can come from a fixed mentality
The idea that leaders are born that way comes from a fixed mindset mentality. A fixed mindset believes that you are as smart as you will ever be from birth and you can’t change that. You can’t get better.
Often people who have a fixed mindset don’t challenge themselves or do things that are hard because they don’t want to look dumb. They think they can’t grow, so they shouldn’t even try.
A person with a growth mindset believes that they can get smarter and grow. If they don’t know something, they don’t know it – yet. If they aren’t good at something, they aren’t good at it – yet. If something is hard, they know they can overcome it, so they enjoy challenges because it makes them grow.
With a fixed mindset, the belief can easily be that you were born with leadership skills or you weren’t. It’s just the way you were from birth. It’s nothing you can change.
Some people are born smart. Some are not. Some are born as leaders. Some are not. You are stuck with what you got.
And that is an unfortunate mindset to have.
It can come from a poor definition of leadership and success
Another reason some people believe this myth is that they have a poor definition of leadership and success.
Generally, when people ask, “Are leaders born or made?”, they at least to a degree are thinking about a leader who is effective. Because of that, it’s important to define what we mean as “effective”.
Sometimes people think just because someone attracts people to follow them or is extroverted or charismatic, they are effective leaders. That’s not the case.
Some “leaders” can drive results to a degree by sheer personality and their driving force, but when they leave, everything falls apart.
They may appear effective initially, but in reality, they weren’t. Others may have people “following” them, but they don’t get results or are leading in poor directions.
That wouldn’t be considered effective either.
It can come from wrong assumptions about leadership traits and qualities
Another cause of the myth that leaders are born, not made, is that some people sometimes equate leadership with certain personality traits or qualities that a person exhibits.
For example, some people are more extroverted and charismatic than others. People sometimes assume that people who exhibit these qualities are better leaders.
There are a couple of problems with this belief.
First, it assumes you can’t grow in these areas. It assumes you are either charismatic or you are not, for example.
- The truth is, while some people seem to naturally be certain ways or have certain traits, many traits, and qualities can be learned, at least to an extent. You may not be very charismatic now, but you can learn and grow into being more charismatic.
Second, it also assumes that it is these traits that make a good leader.
- The truth is often the opposite.
For example, let’s go back to charisma. Many people believe that someone who is extraverted and charismatic is a good leader. But that’s not true (by itself).What makes you a good leader is when you follow good principles of leadership (which anyone can do). ~ Thomas Harris Click To Tweet
You can be charismatic and be a horrible leader. Just because someone seems to have people follow them doesn’t mean they are effective as a leader.
In fact, Jim Collins in his book Good to Great found that charismatic leaders were, long-term, less effective than non-charismatic leaders.
While there are certain qualities that help you be a great leader, the “traits” that people often equate to leadership or that “make” you a leader are not 100% accurate.
Here’s the truth: You can develop into a leader
It doesn’t matter how you were born or your upbringing. You can grow into a leader. You can learn and practice good principles of leadership.
You can learn the traits and skills that will make you an effective leader. It’s a process, and it will take time, but you can do it.
How to develop yourself as a leader
If it is true that leaders are made and not born (and it is), then that means you can develop into a leader. Here are some steps on how you can do that.
Learn all you can about leadership
If you want to develop into an effective leader, you need to take the time to learn all you can about leadership.
Leadership is a process, not a one-time event, and, boom, you are there. It takes time, and you should be constantly growing, no longer how long you have been a leader.
There are different ways to learn about leadership. Here are some options.
Read articles online
- There are some great resources for learning about leadership, such as this site. Take some time to read and process these articles.
- There are lots of great books on leadership out there. If you are not sure where to start, we have a list of 7 books that we recommend (and if you read those, ask us, and we can give you more options).
- You can also type “leadership books” into Amazon or Google and see what books are popular (though that may not always accurate).
- There are some great courses on leadership that can help you learn how to be a great leader. You can join the waitlist for ours here.
Listen to podcasts and audiobooks
- While you are driving or working out, listen to some podcasts or audiobooks on Leadership. Our podcast, No More Bad Leaders, is a great resource for leaders at any level.
Observe good (and not-so-good) leader
- Another way to develop into a good leader is to observe and follow other good leaders. See what they do that is effective and model it.
- Also, look at the opposite. When you face bad leaders, learn from them and what makes them bad leaders. When your good leaders make a mistake, learn from that as well.
- Similarly, if you find a great leader, ask them to help you grow as a leader. Finding a good mentor can help you develop your leadership skills well.
- One option is to get coached as a leader. It’s similar to mentoring, but generally, you or your company pays for the coaching.
Practice, practice, practice. Remember, it’s a process.
- As you practice being a leader, learn from your mistakes. Ask questions. Admit failures. Learn from those below you. Ask them how you can be better.
- Keep trying, admit your mistakes and learn from them, and keep growing.
How to develop others into leaders
If you can develop into a leader, others can too.
How can you develop others into leaders? Through a lot of the same processes that you would for yourself.
Here is an important note, though. Though almost anyone who is willing and wanting to put in the work is capable of becoming a good leader, not everyone is wanting and willing.
Look for people who have that desire, who have a growth mindset, and who are humble and willing to listen and learn.
- Teach them what good leadership is. Model it for them. Talk through situations with them and how they handled or would handle certain situations.
- Teach them how to deal with mistakes and learn from them.
Talk with the team
- Keep in touch with their team to see the team’s viewpoint of how they are doing. It’s not about trying to find out how they are doing wrong, but it’s about growth.
- Sometimes people do act differently with bosses and subordinates.
Provide resources for learning
Leaders Are Made, Not Born
Though some people may seem to be “natural” leaders, we must remember that anyone can learn the principles and grow in the qualities that make a great leader.
We also have to remember that just because people “follow” someone or they seem “natural” doesn’t mean that is actually effective leadership.
You can develop into a good leader if you are willing to put in the effort and work.
As Vince Lombardi said, “Leaders aren’t born, they are made. And they are made just like anything else, through hard work.”
Now to you, what’s your take on this? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.