What a meaty question! I am reminded of one of my favorite quotes from
Shakespeare: "Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some
have greatness thrust upon them."
As you requested, I've gathered material discussing both viewpoints.
LEADERS ARE BORN, NOT MADE
"We might not like it, but leaders are born and not made. To lead, you
need the following traits:
* a spirit of adventure - the urge to explore, break new ground,
challenge the status quo, stand up for what you believe, risk
rejection, rebel against authority, innovate.
* an ability to influence - by example, logical argument, enthusiasm,
persistence or painting a visionary picture.
* an appropriate level of intelligence.
* You can modify your style of influencing a bit, but not totally. A
quietly persuasive leader will have difficulty ever being charismatic
- some in-born traits here.
* But it's hard to shift your spirit of adventure very much if you are
strongly cautious, conservative or motivated to be accepted by others
rather than risk rejection.
* We are either born with a strong rebellious streak or acquire it early in life.
* The same is true of intelligence.
*Earlier theories of leadership rejected the idea that leaders are
born because they identified leadership with ability to influence,
noting rightly that there are widely differing styles of influence and
that people can improve their influencing skills. But the critical
leadership trait is the spirit of adventure - a bit like creativity,
you might have it in small, rather than large, doses, but you either
have it or you don't."
"Leaders are born, not made. You either have it or you don't. The
leadership gene should be mapped somewhere in the genome so we can
develop a simple blood test early on and save tons of money and tons
of anguish on those that try to lead, but fail miserably at it...
Critical pieces of leadership are really core parts of your
personality. You either have charisma or you don't. You were born with
a love for hard work or you are lazy. You have self-confidence oozing
from your pores or you have self-loathing. You can take intense
scrutiny, divorcing attacks and criticism of your work from personal
attacks, or you are defensive and easily upset. You are intuitive,
with tons of common sense, or you are impatient and impulsive. And
most importantly, you are honest with yourself and can see where your
"The assumption is often made that those who lead, do so naturally out
of an inborn set of attributes which hardly leave a choice. Leaders
are 'born,' not 'made.' A parallel with the musical talent is often
drawn - some people very early are known to be able to sing a tune,
learn to play an instrument, or even compose original music with
apparently very little effort. That leadership is a gift, like music,
may be obvious, but perhaps the analogy should be pressed a little
further. When it is acknowledged that a young person is gifted with
musical talent, they are encouraged, sometimes even forced to submit
to training so that the gift may be developed for the benefit of all
who will listen. At first, only parents and grand-parents delight to
hear the fumbling, discordant attempts of the child to play the
instrument. However, as skill develops, the audience broadens.
Much the same should be applied to the development of leadership. The
inborn talent is there, but effectiveness in leading waits for the
development of needed skill... 'Born to Lead' is a correct assessment,
let's just make sure the new-born are well nourished."
"One of the first ways of conceiving of leadership was the idea that
it was an inborn ability-- and all you had to do was to look at Royal
families and other forms of authority lineage in various societies and
see how authority was passed down. Supporting these assertions at the
time were the beliefs that many leaders, especially monarchs, were
deified (god-like). Even Aristotle suggested that 'some men are born
to lead, and others to be led.' European monarchies passed on their
authority and leadership by this means, often involving intermarriage
among an elite ruling class...
There were even some early scientific efforts at exploring whether the
great person was justified. Galton's 1869 study of heritary
backgrounds of great men showed mixed results. Wood's 1913 study of
leaders in 14 nations over 5-10 centuries found that the quality of
the reign was related to the monarch's abilities. With growing
interest in Darwinian theory, Wiggam (1936) proposed the 'survival of
the fittest' and intermarriage of 'brighter' (educated) people among
the upper classes produced better leaders.
The problem with the great person approach was that not all inherited
leaders were capable. In other cases, their leadership was due to
charisma or halo effect, not real skill. But while such people held
those positions of authority, were they really 'good' or effective
leaders? Perhaps it wasn't just being born into such a position, but
it was the traits one possessed. Thus, the Great Person theory was
modified into the Trait theory of leadership-- traits being certain
inborn characteristics that ensured leader potential."
College of St. Scholastica
"In 1910 the first research on leadership was conducted which gave
rise to the notion that certain individuals have been born with traits
to make them leaders, natural born leaders, and others were not born
with those traits. Much research was conducted after 1910 to determine
the validity of this idea. Currently, Max Weber has identified
Charismatic Leadership as a new and emerging theory. Charisma is
defined by Websters Dictionary as someone that has 'personal magnetism
or charge.' Weber essentially stated that those individuals with charm
and that are able to attract others to them are leaders. Former
President Bill Clinton was a spokesperson for the Charismatic
Leadership theory, people would be drawn to his voice and actions at
all time and he used his charm to attract supporters."
Norris University Center / Northwestern University
LEADERS ARE MADE, NOT BORN
"Anyone-absolutely anyone-can be an effective leader. When people
generate a compelling challenge for themselves and others-one that
points toward a future not previously considered possible-a new kind
of leadership becomes achievable. Rather than being a product of the
right characteristics, leadership becomes a product of being
passionately committed to fulfilling that challenge and that
When the opportunity to make a difference is sufficiently compelling,
people willingly risk stepping forward as a leader. Whether mundane or
profound, everyone can recall a similar instance. Leadership,
therefore, might be ordinary people with extraordinary commitments who
are willing to relentlessly take the necessary actions to deliver.
When people believe passionately in what they are doing, and why they
are doing it, they become unstoppable.
JPT Online: April 2004
"Great leaders exhibit nine different kinds of behaviors that enable
them to bring out the best in their people. Some of the nine behaviors
of leadership listed below involve building participatory teams, some
involve using situational management strategies, while others enhance
personal resources. Listed separately, the nine behaviors include:
Being able to influence others.
Using multiple options thinking.
Taking intelligent risks.
Being passionate about work.
Having a strong clear vision.
Stretching one's personal creativity.
While many people think leaders are unique, even born to that state of
excellence, I have found just the opposite. With proper experiential
training, it is possible for people to learn these leadership
behaviors. In other words, leaders can be developed."
"There are no 'born' leaders, however we are all born with unique
strengths that help us in our leadership journeys - they are within
us, and with most people, they stay within. The notion that leaders
are born, and others therefore will never be leaders, is illogical,
depressing and seriously limiting to every human being. The idea
suggests that the moment babies are born they either have the genetics
to be a leader, or they do not. This argument would be fine if the
definition of leadership, and leaders, had been constant for the past
50 years, but it is not. Indeed, more has been discovered about
leadership and human behaviour in the last 20 years than in the
Furthermore, the 'born' argument does not take into account the effect
that experience and learning has on our personalities, behaviours and
on our inner selves.
Leadership is a skill and a habit. Like most skills and habits, one
that improves with practice. As we become more skilled - the habit
takes over - we worry less about the mechanics of doing it and focus
more on the outcomes to be achieved.
And so it is with personality, much of personality is a set of
responses that have become habits. Often these were developed with
little forethought or awareness in school or at home. Presented with a
challenge we try a response, if it works we remember it and use it
again. If it works often enough, we use it without too much thought
and it becomes a habit. Take any set of habits, mix and stir, and we
create our own unique approach to life.
But like any habit, we can choose to change."
"Françoise Morissette and fellow consultant Amal Henein have
interviewed 200 leaders from across Canada: executives, entrepreneurs,
politicians, civil servants, fundraisers, activists, artists,
journalists, athletes, coaches...
One of the most interesting finding is that only one-third of
interviewees feel they were 'born to lead' and have an innate interest
or ability in leadership. By contrast, two-thirds claim that
leadership was 'thrust upon them'...
This breakdown has profound implications on how we view leadership and
its development. It certainly flies in the face of the old adage that
'leaders are born, not made.' Instead of focusing on how to identify
'born' leaders -- which is easy enough to do -- the question becomes:
how do we create conditions so that more people will take on
leadership roles? If the majority of people do not initially see
themselves as leaders, then development is key: 'Nurture' primes over
Moreover, even the innate leaders stress the importance of
development, which enables them to grow in skill and confidence and
enhances their ability to adapt to a variety of situations. Both the
'accidental' and the 'born' leaders agree that leadership development
is essentially an organic process. Although a certain amount of
planning and goal setting exists, being alert to opportunities and
seizing them is paramount because stretching out of one?s comfort zone
promotes growth like nothing else."
Industrial Relations Centre
"For years, academics have debated whether leaders are born or made,
whether a person who lacks charisma can become a leader, and what
makes leaders fail... Generally, researchers have found that you can't
explain leadership by way of intelligence, birth order, family wealth
or stability, level of education, ethnicity, race, or gender. From one
leader to the next, there's enormous variance in every one of those
The authors' research led to a new and telling discovery: that every
leader, regardless of age, had undergone at least one intense,
transformational experience--what the authors call a 'crucible.' These
events can either make you or break you. For emerging leaders, they do
more making than breaking, providing key lessons to help a person move
If a crucible helps a person to become a leader, there are four
essential qualities that allow someone to remain one, according to the
authors. They are: an 'adaptive capacity' that lets people not only
survive inevitable setbacks, heartbreaks, and difficulties but also
learn from them; an ability to engage others through shared meaning or
a common vision; a distinctive and compelling voice that communicates
one's conviction and desire to do the right thing; and a sense of
integrity that allows a leader to distinguish between good and evil."
Business Week: February 17, 2003
If you have the time to investigate a book on the subject of
leadership, you may be interested in "The Leadership Challenge," by
James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner:
"In the 1980s and again in the '90s, James M. Kouzes and Barry Z.
Posner published The Leadership Challenge to address issues they
uncovered in research on ordinary people achieving 'individual
leadership standards of excellence.' The keys they identified--model
the way, inspire a shared vision, challenge the process, enable others
to act, encourage the heart--have now been reexamined in the context
of the post-millennium world and updated in a third edition.... After
explaining their concept and methodology, the authors detail the five
essentials noted above in a pair of chapters apiece that bring clarity
to their theories with case studies and recommended actions. The
specificity of each (motivating through 'the meaningfulness of the
challenge, not the material rewards of success,' for example, and
being able to 'accept the mistakes that result from experimentation')
is enhanced by advice on sustaining the commitment and making
leadership skills accessible to all."
Amazon: "The Leadership Challenge"
My Google search strategy:
Google Web Search: leadership study OR research OR theory
Google Web Search: "born to lead" OR "leaders are born" OR "leaders are made"
I'd like to close with an anecdote that has stayed with me for many
years. In the early 1970s I attended a leadership seminar in which the
matter of whether leaders are born or made was debated endlessly. One
speaker, an elderly woman who was a retired Professor of Business
Administration, gave a passionate defense of the belief that
leadership is largely a matter of training and the learning of
behavioral patterns. A young, rather hot-headed businessman challenged
this theory, ending his oration with the old proverb "You can't make a
silk purse out of a sow's ear." The elderly professor paused for a
moment and said softly "No, but you might be able to make a stunning
I hope this is helpful! Please request clarification if needed.