Gut Check: Are Leaders Born or Made?

May 23, 2014 Vince Molinaro
Gut Check: Are Leaders Born or Made?

After years of intensive study and writing about leadership, I’m often surprised that this question still comes up. Every time I speak to a group of leaders, sooner or later the discussion surfaces. And to my amazement, passions run quite hot on the subject.

I believe it’s important for every leader to have a personal point of view on this important question. Even so, I’m growing a bit weary about the debate. In large part, because in my opinion, it’s not really a debate at all – leaders are born and made. Period.

I thought about this non-debate a lot this past weekend after watching hundreds of three and four-year-old boys and girls and their parents descend on the soccer fields near my home to launch another year of house league.

If you’ve never seen kids of this age play soccer, you should. It’s tons of fun. The cheering and sense of excitement I witnessed reminded me of being on the field with my own kids.

One of the things I vividly remember from those early soccer games was how quickly you could identify each child’s inherent soccer ability.

For example, when my oldest son first started playing, there was one boy on his team who was a natural. He played the game at a level that was way above his teammates. He would go on to score four or five goals every game that season. It seemed like he was born to be a soccer player.

There were other kids on the team, like my son, who had real potential. You quickly got the sense that with the right coaching and more experience, they could develop into very strong players.

Then there were those cute kids who just didn’t seem all that interested. These were the kids who during a game would spend their time picking dandelions. If the ball headed in their direction, they’d run away. Although it was likely that a few of them could develop into players, most of these kids weren’t destined to be stars. They just didn’t have the interest or the passion for the game.

Leadership is a lot like my son’s first house league soccer team. In the business world, you can find individuals who are natural born leaders. They seem to have an intuitive sense what it means to be a great leader. They commit to getting stronger.

Then there are those who have the potential and, with the right coaching and set of experiences, can become extremely strong leaders too. In these cases, they have to want it and commit to working on their leadership capabilities.

Then there are those who simply just don’t get it. For these folks, it’s better if they never take on a leadership role. Don’t spend your money developing them because they’re neither wired for it, nor have the desire to pursue it.

We need to evolve our thinking about leadership. It’s not either born or made. It’s both. And we have to use this higher understanding to guide our investments in developing leaders.

If we invest too much in the “born” side of the debate – that leadership is a magical trait that is only imbued on a few fortunate souls – we are only limiting the gene pool from which we will find our great leaders. The reality is there simply aren’t enough naturals out there to meet the demand for great leaders.

On the other hand, if we assume that everyone has the potential to lead, we will be asking some people to do something they are simply unable to do, even with support and guidance.

The ideal balance here is to identify quickly the natural born leaders, and then invest heavily in identifying those that have the potential and the desire to take on this challenge. This will give us the largest pool of leadership talent from which to draw.

That means admitting, once and for all, that great leaders are born and made. And not everyone can or should be a leader.

What’s your point of view? This week’s gut check question asks: Do you believe leaders are born or made? Or both?

Wax philosophical with me @VinceMolinaro

About the Author

Vince Molinaro

Vince Molinaro is the Global Managing Director of Strategic Solutions at Lee Hecht Harrison. He is also the author of The Leadership Contract – a New York Times and USA Today bestseller. Vince has spent more than 20 years as an adviser to boards and senior executives looking to improve leadership in their organizations.

Follow on Twitter More Content by Vince Molinaro
Previous Article
Gut Check: Do You Know Your Leadership Sweet Spot?
Gut Check: Do You Know Your Leadership Sweet Spot?

When Ian Kinsler, all-star second baseman for the Texas Rangers,...

Next Article
Gut Check: Do You Lack The Discipline To Lead?
Gut Check: Do You Lack The Discipline To Lead?

I once worked for a manager who was a train wreck.  She was a...

Want more fresh thinking at your fingertips? Subscribe to our onPeople newsletter today!

Subscribe