Are Leaders Born or Made?

Are Leaders Born or Made?  This is an intriguing question that stimulates continuous debates.  While some scientists agree that people are born as leaders, researchers against this idea indicate that there is no genetic factor to leadership thus the “the most dangerous leadership myth is that leaders are born” (Bennis as cited in Wattleton, 2009, p. 96).  Because leadership is “one of the most observed, yet least understood, phenomena on earth” (Burns as cited in Rosch & Kusel, 2010, p. 29), the answer to this question depends on in-depth studies in leadership concepts, traits, and developments.  First, let’s examine how leadership is defined in terms of leader-follower influence.

What is Leadership?

According to Rosch and Kusel (2010), leadership is commonly defined as “an individual’s influence on a group in order to reach a goal” (p. 29).  Similarly, Lussier and Achua (2010) stated that “leadership is the influencing process of leaders and followers to achieve organizational objectives through change” (2010, p. 6). These definitions are well accepted because they are difficult to disagree with, but the meaning of leadership is rather vague in these definitions when there is no clear description on what actions to be taken to make such influence.  In fact, influence can be made in many ways, thus it is arguable that whether or not true leadership is conducted when a personal or organizational goal is achieved by coercion, force, or unethical means.

To make a more concise definition with boundaries, Boseman (2008) referred leadership as the “act of stimulating, engaging, and satisfying the motives of followers that result in the followers taking a course of action toward a mutually shared vision” (p. 36).  As summarized in Volckmann (2012),  leadership is conducted by people with certain positive traits to influence followers to perform tasks as directed by the leaders in order to “achieve group or organizational goals that reflect excellence defined as some kind of higher order effectiveness” (p. 10). Thus, leadership means a positive motivational influence from leaders to followers for their mutual purposes of changes and improvements reflecting the organizational goals.
Because all definitions of leadership indicate leaders’ influence with followers, leadership should be perceived as a social behavior for actions towards mutual goals of both leaders and followers.  Therefore, to answer the question that leaders are born or made, it is necessary to examine whether or not this social behavior is genetically inherited or it can be learned and trained.

Is Leadership Built in Genes?

According to Avolio and Hannah (2008), recent behavioral-genetic research provided “compelling evidence that one’s ability for leadership is more developed or made than heritable or born” (p. 333).  Because behavioral-genetic research could not identify genetic differences among individuals to affect the variance in complex behavioral traits, it is concluded that “most behavioral variability among individuals is environmental in origin” (Plomin and Daniels as cited in Avolio and Hannah, 2008, p. 333).  This conclusion means that there is no genetic makeup to guarantee anyone to be a leader.

In summary, although some people are born with leadership advantages, leaders are mainly made from continuous learning and accumulative experience.  Therefore, by developing right leadership skills, everyone can become a better leader.


Avolio, B. J., & Hannah, S. T. (2008). Developmental readiness: Accelerating leader development. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, 60(4), 331-347. doi:10.1037/1065-9293.60.4.331

Boseman, G. (2008). Effective leadership in a changing world. Journal of Financial Service Professionals, 62(3), 36-38.

Lussier, R. N. & Achua, C. F. (2010). Leadership: Theory, application, and skill development (4th ed.). Mason, OH: Cengage Learning.

Rosch, D. M., & Kusel, M. L. (2010). What do we mean when we talk about “leadership?”. About Campus, 15(5), 29-32.

Wattleton, F. (2009). I beg to differ that great leaders are born and not made!. Athletic Training & Sports Health Care: The Journal for the Practicing Clinician, 1(3), 96-97.

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