Born Leader vs. Made Leader: The Difference Between Them - Peter Boolkah

Is leadership a trait you’re born with or a skill that can be nurtured and developed over time? It’s a debate that has intrigued business scholars, psychologists, and professionals alike for years. In the world of business, where strong leadership can be the deciding factor between success and failure, understanding the nuances of this debate is more than just intellectual curiosity; it has practical implications too. Join me on this enlightening exploration of the born leader versus the made leader. Let’s dissect the characteristics, strengths, and weaknesses of both, and perhaps give you a fresh perspective on your leadership style.

What Is a Born Leader?

Born leaders, as the name suggests, are individuals who are naturally born to lead. They embody the qualities and abilities associated with effective leadership. These are the people within our society who seem to have an inbuilt knack for guiding others toward a collective goal. They don’t necessarily have to learn or work to improve their leadership skills; rather, they instinctively know how to inspire others and motivate them to follow their vision.

Their innate leadership abilities are as much a part of their identity as their physical features. Born leaders know how to effortlessly rally teams, conducting the symphony of people’s strengths and weaknesses in perfect harmony to reach desired outcomes.

What Does It Mean To Be a Made Leader?

Made leaders are not born, but made as a result of hard work. These individuals understand the vital balance between their mission and the role they have to play within it. Leaders who are made rather than born often rise from the ranks, learning the ropes, understanding the landscape, gradually learning new skills, and honing their leadership capabilities.

It’s through this journey that they cultivate a deep empathy for their teams, as they have experienced firsthand the challenges of each role. Made leaders understand the importance of the company’s mission, helping the team achieve their goals and instilling the organisation’s values in every interaction with clients and customers. Their leadership is a result of deliberate effort, resilience, and continuous learning, demonstrating that leadership success is not always a birthright but a skill that can be shaped and mastered.

Born Leader vs Made Leader The Difference - Peter Boolkah

The Difference Between Born Leaders and Made Leaders

The crux of the distinction between a born leader and a made leader lies in the origin of their leadership traits.  Born leaders are often characterized by an instinct for leadership, displaying an innate ability to guide and inspire their teams effortlessly. Their charisma and confidence command respect, making it easy for others to follow their lead. These leaders seem to possess leadership qualities as an inherent part of their identity, suggesting that leadership is ingrained in their nature.

On the other hand, made leaders follow a different path to leadership. Unlike born leaders, they may not exhibit early indications of leadership qualities. Instead, their journey involves facing various experiences and challenges, coupled with dedicated efforts to acquire the necessary skills over time. Made leaders emphasize understanding their teams, practicing empathy, and developing the capability to make well-informed decisions that contribute to the collective success. This demonstrates that leadership is not confined to inherent talent but can be cultivated through determination and resilience.

Leadership Theories: Born or Made Leader

Now that we’ve explored the founding principles of the Born Leader and the Made Leader, it’s time to delve deeper into the realm of leadership theories. These theories, backed by extensive research and study, offer fascinating insights into the born versus made leadership debate. They provide us with a more comprehensive understanding of leadership as a whole and paint a clearer picture of the complexities involved in becoming a leader.

Great Man Theories

Great Man Theories suggest that leadership is an inherent trait, stating that great leaders are born, not made. This viewpoint gained popularity in the 19th and early 20th centuries, asserting that specific individuals possess natural qualities that destined them for leadership roles. Initially tied to men of noble birth, this theory expanded to include individuals of any gender or social class.

The Great Man Theory identifies these individuals as ‘heroes’ who shape history through charisma, wisdom, and influence. Supporters believe these ‘great men’ are responsible for significant milestones and turning points. However, criticism arises from the theory’s failure to consider environmental factors and personal experiences in leadership development.

Management Theories

In contrast to the ‘Great Man Theories’, Management Theories, also referred to as Transactional Theories, frame leadership as a set of specific skills that can be identified and cultivated. Rooted in behavioural science, these theories assert that successful leadership is a product of learned responses to different situations. They emphasise the importance of organisational structures, clear roles and responsibilities, and reward systems. A crucial aspect of this theory is the belief that leaders are made, not born.

Transactional leaders are particularly adept at recognising the needs of their team, setting clear goals, and providing feedback to ensure these goals are met. They tend to focus on maintaining routine by managing individual and team performance against a set standard. Critics of this theory argue that it may limit creativity and innovation, as it often relies on preset norms and standards. However, it remains a significant model in understanding how leadership skills can be developed and applied in a structured environment.

Contingency Theories

Contingency theories suggest that the effectiveness of leadership is largely influenced by the context or environment in which it takes place. These theories argue that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to leadership, and success depends on various factors such as the leader’s style, the traits of the team members, and the specific situation at hand.

According to this theory, both natural-born leaders and those who have developed their leadership skills can be effective, depending on the circumstances. For example, a natural-born leader may excel in a crisis, leveraging their innate charisma and confidence to inspire and guide others. On the other hand, a leader who has honed their skills through experience and understanding of team dynamics may be more effective in a stable and predictable environment.

In essence, contingency theories acknowledge that leadership is not a fixed formula, but rather a flexible approach that adapts to the unique demands of each situation.

Trait Theories

Trait Theories, an important aspect in the study of leadership, suggest that some individuals possess inherent qualities or traits that make them naturally inclined towards successful leadership. These qualities, like charisma, confidence, and decisiveness, are believed to be ingrained and not easily changeable, supporting the idea of the ‘Born Leader’.

However, the theory has evolved to acknowledge that while certain traits may be advantageous for leadership, they do not guarantee success, and the absence of specific traits does not prevent someone from being an effective leader. Over time, research has identified a variety of desirable traits, including emotional intelligence, self-confidence, determination, and integrity. Critics argue that Trait Theories place too much emphasis on innate characteristics and underestimate the influence of learning, experience, and context.

Behavioral Theories

Behavioural Theories mark a significant shift in leadership studies, moving beyond innate traits to focus on the behaviors and actions that make leaders effective. According to these theories, great leaders are made rather than born with the qualities they need to lead. This suggests that individuals can learn to become leaders through observation, experience, and teaching.

Two primary categories discussed in Behavioural Theories are task-oriented and people-oriented leadership approaches. Task-oriented leaders concentrate on the job, organizing work, clarifying roles, and setting clear objectives. On the other hand, people-oriented leaders prioritize team building, encourage participation, and foster positive relationships. What’s fascinating about Behavioural Theories is their accessibility, suggesting that leadership is not limited to those with specific traits but is attainable through learning and practice.

Relationship Theories

Transformational Theories, also known as Relationship Theories, suggest leaders are made and not born is often associated with the concept of “transformational leadership” and is grounded in the idea of leadership development through experience and learning.

Transformational leaders are true inspirations. They paint a vivid picture of the future, set high expectations, and demonstrate unwavering commitment to the goals. By leading through their actions, they create an atmosphere of trust, admiration, and respect. These leaders aren’t born or made; they evolve. They continuously adapt and grow based on their interactions with the team and the shared experiences they encounter.

skills and experiences within the team

Participative Theories

Participative theories argue that the best leadership style is one that incorporates the input and feedback of others. These theories highlight the significance of involving team members in decision-making and problem-solving.

A participative leader doesn’t simply dictate; instead, they facilitate discussions, encourage input, and value feedback and ideas from their team before reaching decisions. This approach recognizes the diverse skills and experiences within the team, leveraging these collective insights to overcome challenges and identify opportunities.

Critics argue that the participative leadership approach can be time-consuming, especially in situations requiring quick decisions, and may potentially lead to conflicts and inefficiencies if not managed effectively. However, when implemented well, participative theories can significantly boost team morale, enhance trust, and foster creativity and innovation. These theories reinforce the idea that leadership is not solely about being in charge but also about taking care of those you lead.

Situational Theories

Situational Theories, as the name suggests, propose that successful leadership largely depends on a leader’s ability to adapt their style to different situations. These theories acknowledge that leadership is not a one-size-fits-all approach, but rather, it varies depending on factors like the task at hand, the team’s maturity and competence, and the organizational context.

Situational leaders are flexible, versatile, and practical. They don’t stick to a particular leadership approach but instead, adjust their approach based on the specific situation. For example, they may adopt a directive style when dealing with a new team or during a crisis, and switch to a more participative style when leading a highly competent team or when creativity is required. Critics argue that Situational Theories oversimplify leadership and that not all leaders have the extensive range of skills and abilities to adapt to any given situation.

Nevertheless, the strength of Situational Theories lies in their practicality and relevance to the dynamic and ever-changing nature of the leadership journey. They remind us that successful leadership is about being adaptable and responsive and that the “right” leadership approach is the one that best fits the situation.

How Can You Improve Your Leadership Skills With Effective Training?

Though leadership is essential to any organization, the truth is that great leaders are hard to come by. That’s where the power of leadership training comes in.

Training provides a structured platform to help you develop essential skills like decision-making, problem-solving, communication, and team-building. These programs will challenge your perspectives, push you beyond your comfort zone, and introduce fresh ways of thinking and leading, ultimately helping you become a successful leader. They equip you with tools and strategies to effectively manage your team, cultivate a positive work environment, and navigate complex business scenarios.

Training also offers opportunities for experiential learning, allowing you to apply theoretical knowledge to practical situations. Through simulated scenarios, role-plays, and interactive exercises, you can experiment with different leadership styles, understand their impact, and learn how to adapt your approach based on the demands of each situation.

Moreover, successful leadership training encourages self-reflection, helping you identify your strengths and areas for improvement. It provides constructive feedback, facilitating personal growth and the development of your unique leadership style.

However, it’s important to remember that attending the right training and development programs is just the beginning. The real test lies in implementing what you’ve learned in the real world. Practice, patience, and persistence are critical to translating training into tangible changes in your leadership approach.


What Qualities do Natural-Born Leaders Possess ?

Natural born leaders are often distinguished by certain innate qualities that set them apart. They tend to be charismatic individuals, able to inspire and motivate those around them with their energy and passion. Confidence is another key trait, with born leaders often displaying a strong belief in their ability to achieve their goals.

These individuals also tend to exhibit high levels of emotional intelligence, with an understanding and empathy for the feelings of others that helps them to build strong, positive relationships. That said, being a natural leader doesn’t mean that a person is automatically a good leader. Great leadership requires continual learning, development, and the honing of skills, regardless of natural predisposition.

Are Effective Leaders Born or Made?

The debate between whether effective leaders are born or made is a long-standing one. The truth of the matter is, it’s not necessarily an either/or situation. Some individuals seem to naturally possess leadership qualities such as charisma, confidence, and decisiveness. These characteristics can make them more inclined to leadership roles and may give them an edge in certain situations.

However, this doesn’t automatically make them effective leaders. On the other side, skills such as conflict resolution, strategic thinking, and emotional intelligence – foundational elements of effective leadership – can be learned and developed over time. A person who may not initially exhibit leadership traits can acquire them through training, experience, and conscious effort and become a strong leader.

How do you Identify a Good Leader?

Identifying a good leader can often come down to observing their behaviour, attitudes and the overall atmosphere they create within their team. There are number of qualities that make a good leader. They lead by example, demonstrating the values and work ethic they expect from their team. They display clear communication skills, articulating their vision and objectives effectively, and ensuring everyone is on the same page. Emotional intelligence is another vital attribute, which allows them to understand and manage not just their own emotions, but those of their team members as well.

Good leaders also encourage and facilitate personal and professional growth within their team, creating an environment conducive to learning and development. They are approachable and receptive to feedback, and have the ability to make decisive and well-informed decisions. Finally, a good leader is one who can inspire and motivate their team, fostering a sense of unity and shared purpose.

What are the 3 Traits of Great Leaders?

Three key traits that distinguish great leaders are adaptability, empathy, and resilience. Adaptability refers to the ability to respond effectively to changes and steer the team through dynamic situations. This trait is particularly crucial in today’s fast-paced business world, where change is the only constant. The second trait, empathy, is the capacity to understand and share the feelings of others.

Empathetic leaders foster a supportive work environment, prioritise team welfare, and are better equipped to manage conflicts and maintain team harmony. The third trait, resilience, is the ability to rebound from setbacks. Resilient leaders inspire their teams to persevere in the face of challenges, instilling in them a culture of resilience and a ‘can-do’ attitude.

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