Are Leaders Born Or Made?


About a month and a half ago I gave a key note speech at a leadership conference. And inevitably, during the Q&A session the “are leaders born or made?” question came up.  Some members of the audience felt adamant that leaders were born, while others felt it was obvious that they were made. Personally, I dislike “either or” statements. Things are rarely as simple as some would like them to be. As you can probably guess, I though the answer was not mutually exclusive.  Some leaders are born, while others are made.


Having been a martial arts instructor for many years, I’ve seen kids that seem to just draw other kids to them without much effort. They were natural leaders.  I think the key trait they possessed was self-confidence. Their strong self-confidence drew other kids to them. I would say that most of these kids did not see themselves as leaders, and often did not appreciate the influence they had over others, but it was certainly there.

Though I do not know for sure that their parents did not intentionally develop their leadership skill, I can say with a fair degree of confidence that they did not.  One could argue that these kids  I observed were  born leaders.  Then again, perhaps it was their parents love and nurture that built up their confidence to make them natural leaders.  Therefore I suppose a better term for them would be “natural leaders”.  These kids were leaders without anyone giving them leadership training.

On the other hand, I’ve also seen kids who came to Zen-Do Bahrain (the kickboxing school I used to own) with low self-esteem, suffering from bullying and other problems. There was not an iota of leadership skill in them.  But over the years I’ve seen them flourish.  As their martial arts skills developed, they just bloomed into confident, capable leaders. It really was amazing to see the transformation.

Not just kids

I’ve also seen this with adult Team Members who’ve worked for me over the years.  They start out young, often immature, and then develop into impressive leaders.  Again, it’s wonderful to witness the transformation.

Alas, there are also those who desperately want to become leaders but they just don’t have what it takes. They see themselves as leaders but lack the basic leadership skills.  Some it seems, no matter how keen they are and willing to learn, just make terrible leaders.

To summarise and simplify the matter, leadership requires the ability to lead others, and some have that ability naturally while others have to learn it.  But not everyone who wants to learn leadership can become a good leader.

Thanks for taking the time to read this, and talk to you soon.

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