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Are Leaders Born Or Made

“There is no point in sending people to do leadership training and development courses, as leaders are born, not made.” Analyze this claim with reference to different theories of leadership. Introduction. What is a leader? It is impossible to obtain a single definition. But it happened when achieving an objective and when more than one person is needed to do it. Nowadays, there are many leadership training and development courses that train people to be the position of leaders. Companies send their staff to these courses in order to increase organizational effectiveness. However, some people argue that these courses are useless. It is because they believed that leaders are born, but not made. This essay will analyze this claim by using different leadership theories as well as discussing the impact on leadership development courses, in order to identify whether leaders are born or are made.

Leaders are born. There are many successful leaders who demonstrated their skills at an early age. They have natural talents that make them be ‘natural leaders’. Sometimes they also obtained characteristics or elements of a leader when they are born. Trait Theory is one of the main leadership theories and it suggested that certain characteristics are particularly suited to become a leader. Great leaders usually have these combinations of traits. Many types of research were made in order to find out the characteristics required for a successful leader. Although different researches discovered different traits, most of them are just different in a minor sense. A classic survey by Stogdill (1948)1 identified intelligence, scholarship, and dependability in exercising responsibilities, activity, social participation and socio-economic status as primary factors.

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McCall and Lombardo (1983)2 stated that leadership traits should contain emotional stability and composure, admitting error, good interpersonal skills, and intellectual breadth. There are also some physical factors that make someone more suitable to be a leader; people who are tall, handsome, and healthy usually take advantage. The basic assumption of the Trait Theory is that people are born with inherited traits. Findings over recent years supported that at least half of our traits are inherited. In other words, some people are born with the characteristics of a leader while some people are not. People born with these characteristics made them outstanding among other people and followers usually want their leader to contain these traits. Great Man Theory is another theory that supports leaders are born. Early research on leadership was based on the great leaders in the past.

Researchers discovered that most of the leaders were from the aristocracy since lower classes usually do not have the opportunity to lead other people. As a result, bleeding is the main factor to become a leader under Great Man Theory. This theory could also be suitable to describe the world in this 21st Century. For instance, chief executives in business companies would succeed their post to their sons. Furthermore, in the classic summary of scholarly studies on leadership, Bernard Bass (1990)3 introduced Babble theory, also called as Blabbermouth theory. The theory states that people who talk more often and longer are more likely to appear as leaders of the groups, regardless of the quality of their comments. The theory believed that people who talk more often have a greater influence on group decisions.

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However, whether someone is talkative or not are purely depended on their characters. When they grow up, their families, their friends, or their teachers will influence their characters. Also some main factors including their self-confidence and past experience, as people without self-confidence or do not have the experience in a particular area do not wish to talk so much. Another issue on leadership is the problem of gender. Most of the leaders are male, especially in the past. Many attributes associated with leadership were viewed as male, for example, physical vitality and stamina, courage and resolution, decisiveness, self-confidence. The Wall Street Journal (1986)4 stated that there is an invisible, but powerful barrier, that prevents women advance to a certain level, and this barrier is called the ‘glass ceiling’.

What training courses bring us. All of these theories above supported that leaders are born, not made. So why are there so many leadership training courses around? And what do people really can learn from these courses? Basically, these leadership training courses will mainly focus on three main areas: What is a leader? What does a leader do? And how do leaders do it? What is a leader? Through training sessions, people can learn the value of the different attributes of a leader. John Adair (1983)5 stated that decisiveness is the most important factor for a successful leader. Moreover, the importance of factors influencing success and different types of leaders will also be explained. What does a leader do? Besides simply leading others to finish a specific task, a leader should be successful and effective. Everyone has his or her ‘role’ within a party including the leader. A leader should define what is his leadership role.

How do leaders do it? How do leaders assume their role? What skills should leaders obtain? How to get the balance between conflicts of different approaches? Which management style is more appropriate? All of these questions can be answered in leadership training courses. These questions will help or improve the leadership. Most of them are supported by researches or surveys. No one will bear with these data and the only way to answer these questions is from learning. Besides, leadership development courses also explain the difference between leadership and management, personal patterns and beliefs, and establishing ownership of individual’s leadership behaviours etc. People could also learn how to reframe the thinking of those whom they guide, and enabling them to see that changes are not only imperative but also achievable. They also learnt how to develop teamwork and morale, increase the motivation of followers to finish the task.

They will be taught how to solve different problems in different situations, how to think strategically, for example, analyze the markets in that industry, articulate positive future visions. All of these learnable skills could make a successful leader. Leaders are made. Furthermore, there are also many leadership theories that support leaders can be made. According to the Behavioural Theory, leaders can be made rather than are born. The theory focused on what leaders actually do instead of seeking their inborn traits. For instance, what should a leader do if their group got lost in a mountain while hiking? The theory suggested that leaders usually have similar reactions to different problems; therefore, people can learn to have suitable reactions in certain situations in order to be a leader. That is clam down first in the example stated before. This theory suggested that successful leadership is based on learnable or definable behaviour.

Another theory, Role Theory, assumed that people, no matter leader or fellows, usually define roles for themselves and others and which are based on social learning and reading. They will form expectations about the roles that everyone will play and act within the roles they adopt. People have internal schemas about leadership roles based on what they read from books, watched television programmes, or being taught in training courses. Leaders should learn to define their leadership roles in different situations. For example, should the leader act as an executive that determines the objective of the group or act participator that leaves the full delegation of the decision to the team? Although every we will learn from our own experience, and learn by our own mistake and error, we will also perform much learning by watching other people.

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Social Learning Theory stated that, when we feel someone’s behaviour makes sense and makes a success, we would go through it in our minds and then try it for ourselves. When people watched at other successful leaders, they would then try to learn from the leaders through watching, thinking and trying. Many leaders learnt from others’ achievements and failures in order to become successful and effective. Moreover, a successful leader who is very effective at one place sometimes may become less effective or even unsuccessful when the situation change or the factors around him change. Under Contingency Theory, the ability of the leader to lead is contingent upon various situational factors. These contingent factors include the leader’s capability and other variables within the situation. For instance, a successful leader in a business company might not be successful when he is asked to lead a military in a battle. Different pieces of training are needed in order to adopt different situations.

Another theory, Situational Theory, is similar to Contingency Theory. Situational Theory is more likely to focus on the leader’s preferred style, the capabilities and the behaviours of the followers. It suggested that there is no one best way of leading that is suitable in all situations. For example, an effective manager in a company in the UK might not be effective if he worked in the company in same industry in the US, due to many factors including different cultures. Born together with made.  However, although many attributes or skills of being a successful leader can be adopted through learning, it does not mean that everyone can be made to be an effective leader. As most of these skills are still rely on people’s traits to a certain extent. Effective leaders start with some natural talents, and then they build on them. They learn from their experience and they keep on learning.

There are some leadership theories that required both inherited traits and certain training. Transformational Leadership Theory suggested that leaders should be trusted, admired and respected by their followers. The main element of success is the morality associated by the leaders to their parties that motivate them to work together. Leaders under Transformational Leadership Theory are usually charismatic. However, whether a leader is charismatic or not will be subjective. The inherited trait and learnable skills of a leader are both significant factors. As followers not only prefer their leader to be clever, creative, talkative, persuasive, tall, handsome, healthy but also skilled in many different areas, especially good leading and management skill.

Transactional Leadership Theory stated that people are motivated by reward and punishment. People will try to work the best if they know that they will be given certain attractive rewards if they have done it well, and punishment will be given if they failed to finish the task. Transactional leaders required traits such as good awareness and social skills. The leader might also want to learn how to adopt this approach effectively, knowing the optimum level of reward, for example, if the commission on sales is too low, the motivation will be low; if it is too high, the company will have a large expense. Moreover, Cognitive Resource Theory predicts that cognitive capabilities alone are not enough for leadership success; intelligence and experience are also important factors. The leader should know how and when to contribute the abilities to the performance of the team. Leaders should also learn how to solve problems under stress.

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Furthermore, when leaders prioritize between task-focus and people-focus, intelligence is not the only factor to lead to success. Learning from other’s failures is also a key element. Least Preferred Co-worker Theory (1967)6 suggested the effectiveness is based on three factors: leader-member relations, task structure, and leader’s position-power. The Path-Goal Theory of Leadership was developed to describe the leaders who set a target then support and encourage their fellow to achieve it easier and clearer. A successful leader clarifies the path, removes roadblocks that are stopping the followers from going there, and gives certain rewards during the path. Again the leader should be having good awareness and intelligence, but also need to learn how to clarify the path, remove roadblocks, and rewards them effectively. There are many attributes that make a successful leader require both acquired skill and inherent characteristics. Basically, trait and experience are to be the two most important factors being a successful leader. And the most effective way is learning through experience and then builds on the natural talent.

Conclusion. In conclusion, both inherent traits and acquired skills could be the attributes to be a leader. Different theories have been developed to support different views on whether leaders are born or are made. However, the most successful and effective leader contains suitable leader traits, including intelligence, creativity, fluent in speaking and talkative, organized, persuasive, decisive etc. and better be tall, handsome, healthy, male. He also contains acquired skills include the skill he needs related to the group background and a suitable and effective leading approach. Lance Secretan (1986)7 stated that leadership is largely an acquired skill. He wrote that a leader needs intelligence, a positive attitude, and a combination of the qualities of courage, shrewdness and common sense. Successful leaders as they gain experience build on these natural talents and develop the wide range of skills they need. Leadership training and development courses could make people with certain suitable traits to be a more effective and successful leaders. However, if people do not have any characteristic of a leader, leadership training and development courses might be useless to them.


  • Stogdill, R.M.(1984), ‘Personal Factors Associated with Leadership: A Survey of the Literature ‘, Journal of Psychology.
  • McCall, M.W. Jr. and Lombardo, M.M. (1983). ‘Off the track: Why and how successful executives get derailed. Greensboro, NC: Centre for Creative Leadership.
  • Bass, Bernard M.(1990), ‘ Bass & Stogdill’s handbook of leadership: theory, research, and managerial applications.’
  • Wall Street Journal(1986), ‘The Corporate Woman: A Special report’
  • Adair, John(1983), ‘Effective Leadership’
  • Fiedler, F.E.(1967), ‘A theory of leadership effectiveness, NY: McGraw-Hill’
  • Secretan, Lance(1986), ‘Managerial Moxie, London, Kogan Page. 615154

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