Date: 28/05/2022
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Are Leaders Born or Made?

Are Leaders Born or Made?

The controversy has raged for years as to whether leaders are born or made. Well, who really cares? And besides, the controversy will never be factually solved. The more important questions are: Can we identify the best leaders? And can we develop the right people to become leaders?

Even if it’s your position that leaders are born, they still have to be put into situations where they have the opportunity to lead, practice the art of leadership, and learn from other skilled leaders.

A person may be genetically gifted in music, but they still must practice and learn from other experts in order to become a great musician. On the other hand, if leaders are made, and not born, that would mean that they too must experience the same methods of learning to become a leader. 

When you are interviewing someone for a leadership position, it is often very difficult, if not impossible, to identify whether or not the individual is a natural born leader or one who has learned the art of leadership. It is even more difficult to determine the difference between two individuals who have not yet been in a leadership role. A very common mistake is to assume the more outgoing, extroverted person will make the better leader.

Frequently, companies select the very outgoing and highly successful sales person as their new sales manager, only to discover that the person is a poor leader and manager. The same mistake is commonly made in the school system where the wonderful classroom teacher becomes a failure as a principal.

So the question should not be “Are leaders born or made?” Rather, “How can we identify persons who have great leadership skills or the potential to become great leaders?”

I am often asked, “What are the traits of a good leader?”  

From my experience of testing and evaluating hundreds of leaders and observing them at work, I believe there are a few core factors that are common in many leaders. However, one must keep in mind that a person may be an excellent leader in one situation and an abysmal failure in another. 

Many companies and recruiters form the common misconception that if one has shown good leadership in one company, they will be equally successful in another.

Take a look at the track record of many highly respected leaders who have failed in a subsequent position. On numerous occasions, I have assessed individuals who have been highly successful in a particular industry because they had learned the business from the ground up; not because they were excellent strategic leaders. When selected to lead in a different industry, they are much more likely to fail than reach the same degree of success.

So what are the core traits? Again, this is probably the wrong question. 

You should first ask, “What type of leader do we need in our situation?” Once the leadership team fully understands their particular situation and the type of leader needed, can they move forward to select a new leader.  One size does not fit all situations equally.

For example, do you need a creative, strategic visionary leader or do you need a strong team builder who is very operationally focused? These are two entirely different types of leaders. Both can be effective in the right role, but don’t expect an operationally focused person to lead you into uncharted territory with new creative strategic plans.

In my last blog, we concluded that it’s not important whether leaders are born or made. Instead, it’s equality important to identify the type of leader you need and how to identify that person in the selection process. 

Choosing the wrong leader for the wrong situation is terribly expensive for your company. The costs from having selected a less than stellar performer and then having to go through all the expense of selecting a new leader are incalculable. You lose time, money, market share, and morale. Good people often leave in frustration.

Do you need help with sorting out the type of leader you need, or identifying the right leader once you know what type of leader you need? We have been helping all types and sizes of companies with selecting the right leaders for over 30 years.

If you have business friends who could profit from this information feel free to forward this e-mail to them or contact us at

All the Best in selecting the right leadership team. 

John Brownlee


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