Are Leaders Born or Made?

This question was brought up during one of my classes in high school. I thought it was another one of those ‘chicken or the egg’ questions where the answer is ambiguous. And like all ‘chicken or the egg’ questions, we were separated into ‘born’ group and ‘made’ group, and thrown into a heated debate on who’s more right.

I threw myself into the ‘made’ group and I swear we were taking the lead! But before we realized, class was over. We waited for our teacher to have the last say, to take a side, but noooo she didn’t. Instead, she dismissed us and left us hanging.

My classmates didn’t make a big deal out of it.
Leaders are made, stupid!
But, I did.

I believe partly because I wanted to be right, to affirm my beliefs and perspective on leadership. But mostly because I was a leader myself. An incompetent one.

Fast forward two years and I’m still a leader of a youth group.

What triggered this memory, and thus the question, was that I had enough of my emotional episodes of feeling crap, lacking and unworthy whenever I feel that I’m not progressing into a better leader. While I always believed that leaders are made, I always blame myself for not being born a leader. I wasn’t born for this role!

I didn’t want to be a goner or a hopeless wannabe, and so I decided to read up on the topic here, here, here, here and here and watched several TED talks here.

In summary from what I’ve read, apart from knowing that particular personal characteristics and temperaments are embedded in born leaders, leaders are mostly ‘made’.


Interestingly, I noticed one thing that I personally think is fundamental in leadership that a few of the sources mentioned, albeit sometimes subtly, while the others did not. It’s that without a reason or an inspiration to lead, there will be no leaders in the first place. There’s no need to lead when there is no reason to lead! This sounds very commonsensical at first glance but this took me by surprise.

After finding out that leaders are more often ‘made’ than ‘born’, this realization is more important than before.
You can’t train a leader and expect him to flourish if he doesn’t know why he’s doing it in the first place. Unless a powerful idea or dream is imprinted in the hearts and minds of the leaders, there will be no passion or motivation to drive the leaders, and consequently their followers into striving and fighting for that same idea or dream! Passion is contagious. Effective leadership is contagious and charismatic, confident and convicted.

On the other hand, a born leader will not recognize his role if he doesn’t recognize the need for him to take one. If the idea or dream is not strong enough to tug at his heartstrings, he will not move. He will never truly know he is a born leader without anything significant to fight for.

But don’t take my word for it! I’m merely your anonymous blogger. Simon Sinek from TED talk elegantly delivered the importance of a reason, idea or a dream in this timeless talk:

I think it’s time for me to do some introspecting – what drives me, the dream I am pursuing, and the reason of my leadership. And if after introspection do I find out that I don’t have a powerful motivator, it’s time to find one! It’s such a relief to know that I can be trained into a better leader and that leadership is a lifelong journey, even for the born leaders.

Anyways, to conclude, whenever someone asks you the question whether leaders are born or made, lift your chin up and say this proudly:
“Leaders are mostly made, but there are no leaders when there is no reason to lead”.

Darn! I wish I knew this two years ago!


2 thoughts on “Are Leaders Born or Made?

  1. Great post, I for one believe that certain experiences and life events can make a leader, I don’t think anyone is born to lead however some grasp a leadership role easily at a young age depending either; how eduated they are or popular at those ages.

  2. I agree! If it weren’t for life experiences and events, we would all be following the leaders of the past and always reaching the same outcome, for better or for worse. I have members who exhibit characteristics typical in a leader, e.g. initiative, intellect, enthusiasm, authority, extroversion, etc, but never stepped up because they haven’t found the motivation or inspiration that will drive them.

    Thank you so much for your comment!

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