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Are Leaders Born or Made?

Are leaders born or made? Discuss this contentions drawing from the different streams of literature on leaders and leadership.

1.1 Background of Leadership
Back in the 1930’s social scientists began to examine leadership. Through these studies, it was determined that leadership is something people do, and therefore the premise was developed that it is possibly something that people can learn to do.

One of the more famous studies identified leadership in three areas: (1) laissez-faire, (2) authoritarian, and (3) democratic. These studies reinforced the notion that over a long period the most productive groups were those identified with the democratic style of leadership. That is, the people had a part in the decision-making and in the development of a project, and the group was strengthened through this process.
Back in the 1960’s the armed forces of the United States became concerned about the quality of leadership among noncommissioned officers. Experiments were carried out in noncommissioned officer schools at Fort Hood in California. Several Scouters from the Monterey Bay Area Council learned of this program and designed a junior leadership training experience using some of the competencies or skills of leadership identified in this Army training, and it was known as the “White Stag” program.

By the mid-1960’s a “blueprint for action” had been developed and approved through the Research Service to continue experimentation in the leadership development concept for adult and boy leaders. The first experience was conducted at the Schiff Scout Reservation in June 1967, using the Wood Badge as a vehicle to transmit this information and concept to participants selected from nine councils across the country.

This first experience, although very crude, produced enthusiastic participants, and it was not long before five of these councils were selected to conduct experimental Wood Badge sessions using a careful monitoring and evaluating plan to develop further input into this leadership development concept.

By 1969 it was determined to expand leadership development to junior leader training in these five local councils. It proved to be successful, but the experimentation did not stop here. The Rockefeller Brothers Fund was approached to underwrite continued experimentation and evaluation at the two national junior leader instructor training areas located at the Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico and the Schiff Scout Reservation in New Jersey.

In 1971 more than 800 young men aged 13-17 experienced the leadership development idea at Philmont. This was evaluated by volunteers during a five-day conference held at the Rayado site on the Philmont Ranch. The unanimous decision of this group was to move ahead with leadership development.

In the summer of 1972 the people associated with the Rockefeller Foundation requested that this program be evaluated by an outside source; hence the Management Analysis Center of Cambridge, Mass., was contracted to make an independent analysis of this experience by interviewing participants, staff members, and parents to determine Scouts’ attitudes toward understanding the different aspects of leadership before and after they had completed this program. In their report, the Management Analysis Center indicated that the educational methods being used in leadership development are consistent with both the current state of knowledge concerning the conditions under which people learn most effectively and within the current practice in the best leadership development programs available to managers in both public and private organizations.

1.2 Definitions and Sources of Information
It seems as though everyone has something to say about leadership – even if what they are saying is based on misunderstanding and misconception. Sometimes we accept ideas as facts and let them rule our behaviors without taking the time to really think about them. Therefore, when we hear people saying this or that about leadership, we may be tempted to just accept it as truth. This is unfortunate, as leadership is something everyone could use a little more in their lives, whether it is at work, with their families or in the sports community.

Webster’s defines a leader as simply being, a person or thing that leads. While leadership is defined as being the function or position of a leader, but it is more complex than that. Leadership is a behavior we exert when we take responsibility for our actions and their consequences. It is about being accountable when we assume responsibility for guiding others. Leadership is often the difference between success and failure. It is what separates the doers from the observers, and it is what gives positive direction to individuals and organizations.

According to James Kouzes and Barry Posner “Leadership is an observable, learnable set of practices. Leadership is not something mystical and ethereal that cannot be understood by ordinary people. Given the opportunity for feedback and practice, those with the desire and persistence to lead can substantially improve their abilities to do so.” –.
Leadership is the process of leading, influencing, guiding and motivating a group of individuals to accomplish certain goals. When we see a person in a leadership position we usually expect to see someone that is very knowledgeable, professional and makes good decisions. Leadership styles tend to be different depending on the size of the group that that leader is responsible for. A leader with a large group may tend to be more impersonal while a leader with a small group is able to have closer one on one relationship with their followers. Leading a large group can be a difficult task because larger groups tend to come with more problems than smaller…

Whether a leader is made or born is undoubtedly one of the most argued question in the scope of leadership. All of us are born with one trait in common: potential. Of course there are much potential, but the key in dealing with potential is the stimulus and environment that brings it out. In this way, you can look at all of the members of your organization as potential leaders. But the big questions is; were they born with the leadership traits or were the leadership traits instilled in them?

2.1 Leaders Are Made, Not Born.
Successful leaders know how to define their mission, convey it to their subordinates and ensure they have the right tools and training needed to get the job done, Colin Powell, former U.S. secretary of state, told a Business School student audience. I’m sure the time will come for you to transform the world,” he added.

Drawing on his broad experiences in military and civilian life, Powell said: “Leadership is all about people…and getting the most out of people.” It is about conveying a sense of purpose in a selfless manner and creating conditions of trust while displaying moral and physical courage. “Never show fear or anger,” he added. “You have to have a sense of optimism.”

A false leader is someone who fails to get the necessary resources for his or her staff to do their jobs, Powell said. “The first way you take care of the troops is to train them,” he said. “Then you have to trust them and let them get on with their work. The best leaders are those who can communicate upward the fears and desires of their subordinates, and are willing to fight for what is needed. If not, the organization will weaken and crumble.”

Effective leaders are made, not born, Powell said. They learn from trial and error, and from experience. When something fails, a true leader learns from the experience and puts it behind him. “You don’t get reruns in life,” he said. “Don’t worry about what happened in the past.”

Good leaders also must know how to reward those who succeed and know when to retrain, move, or fire ineffective staff. “When you get all these together the place starts to hum,” he said. “You know you’re a good leader when people follow you out of curiosity.”

A commonly held view is that people either “have what it takes” to be a leader or they don’t. Although sufficient evidence supports this view, it leaves companies essentially playing the needle-in-a haystack game, searching for the “right people” with the “right characteristics.” While justifying existing assumptions about what is needed for success, this view also undercuts the possibility of developing people to be effective leaders. Given the pervasive need in today’s corporate world for effective leadership, can companies afford to continue being shaped or directed by this view? Realistically, no.
A different interpretation is that anyone—absolutely anyone—can be an effective leader. When people generate a compelling challenge for themselves and others—one that points toward a future not previously considered possible—a new kind of leadership becomes achievable. Rather than being a product of the right characteristics, leadership becomes a product of being passionately committed to fulfilling that challenge and that future.

While many people might not possess the knowledge and authority of a traditional leader, such limitations are no longer seen as a barrier. Actually, people gain new power and confidence through the courage and commitment required to accept a challenge that exceeds their previous experience. When the opportunity to make a difference is sufficiently compelling, people willingly risk stepping forward as a leader. Whether mundane or profound, everyone can recall a similar instance.

As mentioned, leaders often have strong characteristics like courage, understanding and self-assurance. These skills are not always unique to leaders or have they been thrust upon someone through some right of birth. They are however, a very special combination of skills that are revealed and strengthened during difficult times. It during these times that a leader learns the most. During these difficult times a leader can learn from the experience or learn by watching someone else. This is the time that leadership has the strongest quality to be learned (Cox, 2001).

Leadership, therefore, might be ordinary people with extraordinary commitments who are willing to relentlessly take the necessary actions to deliver. When people believe passionately in what they are doing, and why they are doing it, they become unstoppable. We can summarize with the following quotations;

As the saying goes…. the fighter does not win in the ring… he is only recognized there! You see leadership is not something you’re born with, it cannot be taught, it cannot be copied… it’s learnt!

“Leadership cannot really be taught. It can only be learned.” – Harold Geneen.

“Leaders aren’t born, they are made. And they are made just like anything else, through hard work. And that’s the price we’ll have to pay to achieve that goal, or any goal.” – Vince Lombardi

Leaders are definitely made – not born. But the environment will determine whether potential leaders can develop their talents – and it’s your responsibility to provide it.

2.2 Leaders Are Born, Not Made.
There is an overwhelming amount of information leading to believe that leaders are born. It seems much too difficult for one to comprehend that if given proper training or education everyone may be an equally or sufficient leader. It is not impossible to conceive that if put in the right situation that anyone can lead but it takes a unique individual to lead in times of stress or hardship. However, it seems impossible to believe that all people have the human characteristic to face adversity with a smile, or have the courage to restructure and the self-assurance to stand behind their decisions. These characteristics are found in only a special kind of person and are revealed when simple knowledge has lead to an impasse. In conclusion, it is believed that anyone with special knowledge and power can lead, but only people with special characteristics and abilities can be leaders.

Popular leadership books make a big deal out of saying that anyone can be a leader. United States’ culture places a heavy emphasis on everyone being equal, so I understand why this idea is so popular in America. I was reading Politics by Aristotle the other day and it struck me how different his view of leadership was from our modern ideas. Aristotle felt that people were more or less born as a barbarian (someone not fit to lead) or a noble (someone fit to lead). While his views might seem extreme in our modern view of things, there may be some benefit in that type of approach.

If we recognize that some people are leaders and others aren’t, we’ll spend less time trying to develop leadership skill in people who have no natural propensity to lead. One of the great failures that technology companies are working to overcome is the tendency to pay more for leadership skills than for technical skills. Many very productive scientists and technical people get moved to management positions because it is viewed as a promotion.

Some do well, but others find themselves poorly equipped for their new responsibilities. They are basically taken out of the area where they perform well and are highly skilled and put into an area where they don’t perform well and have no skills. Technical companies are responding to this crisis by creating parallel development paths for employees—one path is technical and the other path is management. Someone who is not a leader can continue to advance throughout their career without requiring them to shift to management.

I do believe that leadership skills can be taught, but I don’t believe that it is necessarily beneficial to everyone. If you’ve ever seen an eagle try to run, you’ll know that it isn’t something they are good at. Since they don’t do it much, they aren’t quite balanced and usually compensate by sticking out their wings.

One point of view would be to look at the eagle and decide that, with a little training, he can become a better runner. With a little practice, the eagle should be able to keep his wings at his side and balance more naturally while running. I’m not sure how much work it would take, but with persistence you could at least make some improvement.

The other point of view would be to make sure eagles aren’t put into situations where they are required to run. Even if you could train them to be twice as good at running, that really isn’t much improvement. Your organization will gain much more by putting them in areas where they can be successful with the skills they have.

A leader’s power and effectiveness emerges from making bold commitments, engaging others about what is possible, and creating challenges, while giving people permission to step forward and contribute. Therefore, developing people’s capabilities in these areas is important to generating leadership.

How successful one is at generating effective leadership directly relates to the size of the challenge and results to which one is committed. As such, a leadership development program must equip individuals to meet significant business challenges by helping them reach beyond themselves and their previous way of working and thinking, and help them commit to achieving something truly extraordinary, even when the pathway to delivery is unclear. A successful program also must create and maintain an environment that fosters leadership. This model produces an immediate payback for a company’s investment in its future leaders. Furthermore, once people have produced something extraordinary, they raise the bar for themselves.

However, this kind of leadership development must extend beyond the classroom in the form of taking on real-time business challenges and projects in which people can continuously integrate the new tools and principles they learn into key areas of their accountability and toward fulfillment of their company’s strategy. Effective leadership, then, is neither a product of having the right characteristics nor about having the right experience and expertise—and is abundantly available within today’s organizations. In fact, it is possible to empower and develop effective leaders at all levels within an enterprise and satisfy the organizational imperative for effective leadership that is a match for a company’s most critical business challenges. And therefore in challenging business environment, leaders are definitely made but only people with special characteristics and abilities can be leaders. This makes me have a strong feeling that leaders can be made and at the same time be born.

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