Are Leaders Born or Made?

Having recently taught a course on Biblical Leadership for Brewton-Parker College, I was asked the question:

"Why would anybody take the time to learn about leadership? After all, you either have it or you don't!"

In this person's mind, leadership is a skill that is available only to a select few - the chosen ones, as it were. He assumed that the skills and traits related to leadership are bound up in the genetics of certain individuals, while they're absent in others.

"Leaders are Born"
Those who feel they lack such abilities serve as one group of advocates for the "born, not made" theory of leadership. In their cases, this explanation can be used as a form of self-pity to excuse the current lack of impact being made with their lives. "Look at my lot in life," they say, "I don't have all the gifts, personality, strengths, and opportunities that others have, so obviously I can't do all that they can do."

But the other group of advocates for the "born, not made" theory are those who seek to preserve their status or keep others from trespassing on their turf. Why would they do that? To preserve their own status within the community/organization. It's simple really: if the ones who hold positional power can convince those who don't that the current state of affairs exists because of their non-negotiable, intrinsic traits, then so much the better for ones in those "elite" positions. If you find yourself on the bottom of such organizations, there exists an impenetrable glass ceiling above you. But if you are on the top, there's an unbreakable glass floor below you.

This is not what I think.

"Leaders are Made"
I am in agreement with leadership expert Stephen Denning who says, "For too long we've been thinking that leadership was some kind of innate gift, a mysterious kind of genetically inherited charisma" (The Secret Language of Leadership, 49).

I think that all people - regardless of gender, ethnicity, or creed - have the potential to lead. It's as if the seeds to lead are planted inside every person. But only those who expose those seeds to proper amounts of water and sunlight will grow the tree and bear the fruit of leadership.

To continue that analogy, the leadership equivalents to water and sunlight are skills, traits, and circumstances. You have control over two of the three, and in the words of the 1980s music star Meatloaf: "Two out of three ain't bad."

So it's a worthy use of your time to work at acquiring the necessary skills and personifying the key traits of leadership. That way you'll be prepared when circumstances collide and opportunity knocks at your door.

I can do no better than cite the words of John Perkins, a champion in the cause of racial reconciliation: "Where [do] great leaders come from - leaders who impact history and liberate people?...[Were] these leaders just born great or [were] they trained to be great? Great leaders emerge. They appear out of, or enter into, the agony and pain and struggle of their day" (Follow Me to Freedom, 39).

Go and emerge as a leader in whatever place you're in today.


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