Are leaders born or made? by RDC

Leaders are those individuals who influence a group of people towards the attainment of common goals, and they are both born and made.

Scientific Research

Researchers from Aston University in Birmingham, Institute of Psychiatry in London and the University of Pittsburgh have managed to link behaviors that drive leadership style to human genes that is involved in synthesizing dopamine – the brain chemical linked to empathy, and serotonin – the brain chemical linked to emotion. The style, called transformational leadership, is a social based leadership that motivates followers through charisma, individual support and intellectual stimulation. The study asked 115 students to complete leadership questionnaire and had their cheeks swabbed after to test their genes. Those with dopamine-based gene had higher scores on scales measuring key transformational leadership characteristics.

Empirical Research

Conventional leadership theories by notable researchers and historians have made significant progress in advancing the concept that leaders are born. Thomas Carlyle, a historian largely associated with the leadership theory “the Great Man”, have indicated that leaders are born with innate traits that makes them destined to lead. Ralph Stodgil, one of the prominent proponents of Trait Theory of leadership, stated that leaders are born with inherited traits. Certain innate traits such as assertiveness, dependability, persistence and adaptability enable them to lead. McCall and Lombardo even expanded the research in 1983 to both success and failure, identifying innate traits that could succeed or derail a leader.

As the literature evolves, with conventional theories focusing on the leader’s traits, behaviors and qualities, contemporary theories now consider the situations, contingencies and the roles the followers play in the overall context of leadership. This is where leaders are made. Fred Friedler postulated that there’s no single way for managers to lead. Instead, situations will create a leadership requirement for managers. The path-goal theory by Robert House suggested that leaders are effective depending on their support to subordinates and their level of influence to motivate them. Leadership skills are developed in a way that positively responds to the need of his followers, their behaviors, the situation or contingencies and even the goal characteristics coupled with his intimate desire to lead and influence others towards the attainment of a common goal.

The literature is also moving to learning Emotional Intelligence (EI) as the changing economic conditions makes it more difficult to manage relationships. It’s no longer just a question of strategy that sabotages businesses or organizations but also emotions. Based on empirical research by science journalist and psychologist Daniel Golemen, Emotional Intelligence can be learned through series of motivations and that level of EI increases as the leaders mature.

Mahatma Gandhi, Winston Churchill, Michael Jordan, Oprah Winfrey, Bono, Aung San Suu Kyi, Al Gore and Bill Gates, are example of made leaders. All have ordinary childhood or have failed at some point in their lives, but they rose to become celebrated leaders in their own field and made positive influence and impact on the lives of others. Thanks to their desire and recognition of the situations, their followers, the clarity of goals they wanted to achieve, they used these as motivations to become who they are now as remembered. Their impact on people’s lives or organizations is all that makes the difference. Adolf Hitler was a made leader too but he was notorious and evil. We see leadership as having a moral dimension to it. And for that, we distinguish who the great leaders are from those who aren’t.

Are leaders made? Yes. Are there born leaders? Yes. Researchers and scientists have allocated a great deal of effort in proving both.


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