Are Leaders Born or Made?

By Csaba Toth

Updated Over a Week Ago

Minute Read

There are a lot of things that amount to the success of an organization, and leadership is, without a doubt, one of them.

So, Are Leaders Born or Made?

What is leadership? There are many definitions. But my favorite one is from Ken Blanchard, who said,

Leadership is the capacity to influence others by unleashing their power and potential to impact the greater good.

Technically, leadership skills are the tools, behaviors, and capabilities a person needs in order to be successful at motivating and directing others. Thus, driving them to achieve their own success.

When we are asked about a born leader, we might think of iconic figures such as Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, and Barack Obama. Or you might name your own heroes who had a positive impact on you.

Do you remember what made them so special? If you think about it really hard, you might realize they had no special powers. They had traits you have admired, which are skills they have perfected.

As my background is in cultural intelligence and human behavior, that is the angle I intend to answer the question of “Are leaders born or made?”.

Indeed, let’s take it a step further and find out how leaders are made in the 21st century.

It All Starts Within

Have you ever seen the documentary about trying to find out what ‘cool’ is? We use that word a lot. However, it is challenging to explain it. The result was that cool is when you know exactly who you are and you do things because you enjoy it and you do not need the approval or attention of others.

The point is the ‘coolest’ people have a strong sense of who they are, just like charismatic leaders.

Why is that? Because confidence is not about knowing all the answers. It is about the knowledge and faith that you are able to deal with the situation. If you know who you are, including your weaknesses and strengths, you know what to expect of yourself.

You know how and what to improve to become a more complete person. It gives you discipline, consistency, integrity, and powerful calmness that others can immediately feel. You will be brave enough to become the best version of yourself.

Impact on Others

Once you know what drives you, what you are scared of, what your purpose is, and what you are capable of, you will project these values onto everyone you meet. The level of success is in direct proportion with the quality of relationships you have with others.

My Mum used to tell me to follow the golden rule and treat people the way I wanted to be treated. Such an innocent and expensive piece of advice it was!

I do agree with that statement in an ethical and biblical way if it refers to being kind, generous, and helpful to others. Otherwise, it can completely backfire despite our best intentions. Why? Because that would imply that everybody is like us. That would be rather selfish.

Cultural Intelligence

We are different, and we can have completely opposing preferences, values, and beliefs based on our experiences and cultural backgrounds, such as our gender, generation, nationality, educational level, profession, and personality type.

We all belong to several cultural groups at once, and they all have a certain set of unwritten rules we subconsciously learn, which ultimately determines our behavior and way of thinking.

Diversity exists because people have found different ways of solving problems which can be the greatest asset or liability depending on how much we understand it.

Real leaders score really high on cultural intelligence. They understand how cultural background determines how they see the world and how others see them. People express emotions and communicate differently. That is the secret.

Successful leaders do not change their personalities, but they change the way they deliver the message. They immediately build trust, project confidence, and make you feel important and valued. Managers do the opposite; they want to feel important by pushing others down.

The good news is that you can learn all of this and become the leader you need to be. It takes effort but is rewarding. It is the foundation of personal development and success as leaders have the people skills they can use as a spouse, parent, friend, or CEO.

The Ability to Lead

Leadership is not about titles. It is about the ability to lead people. I had a similar question when I was doing some consultancy for the CEO of a multinational company. He asked me how he could teach people to work and behave properly. So I asked him a question, too.

Would you let anyone change your way just because they think theirs is the right one?”

His answer was:, “Of course I would not!”.

The painful reality is that 80-90% of any behavioral change in a company is influenced by the behavior of the senior management, especially the CEO. Leaders lead by example, and they give guidance to others to help them improve.

Leaders are most certainly made. And the great news is that you do not need to wait for anyone to make you one. You can do it yourself. It is not about imitating others or learning new habits that could lead to change, but not long-lasting transformation either.

The strongest force in people is to stay consistent with their inner values. Get those right, imprint them, and everything else will follow.

What Do You Think, Are Leaders Born or Made?

If you have ideas about the question, are leaders born or made that might be helpful to readers, share them in the comments section below. Thanks!

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Csaba Toth
Csaba Toth
Csaba Toth is the founder of ICQ Global, developer of the multi award-winning Global DISC model. Csaba has 15 years of experience in working with entrepreneurs, coaches, leaders of global businesses and Fortune 500 companies with one goal in mind: empower people to get along with themselves and others by understanding the blueprint of uncommon sense.
  • Very interesting read and I wish all leaders read this article.

  • David McCuistion says:

    Leadership is a skill, therefore leadership must be learned, practiced and reflected upon for daily improvement. Leadership is about influence, nothing more, nothing less (John Maxwell). Therefore, to learn how to influence people requires learning, building relationships, caring and helping people become better than they were before they came under your charge (Servant Leadership ideal).

    Keep the Leadership Quest Alive! It is a constant process of learning what one does not know about people, behaviors, emotions (EQ, SQ) and cultures that affect behaviors and beliefs. Leadership is about core values and valuing people. All of these must be learned. No leader is born a leader – it is a process of development that takes time, cannot be developed in one day (John Maxwell).

    Super article. Thank you.

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