Answering The Age-Old Question: Are Leaders Born or Made?

Leadership Unlocked Series

Leadership MBA 640 by Lisa E. McGrath

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Article Summary

Leadership development involves reflection and self-discovery, tools for solving complex and multilayered problems, the awareness and ability to overcome the dark side of leadership, and the desire to lead. This paper is just an introduction to the leadership journey answering the question, are leaders born or made? While leadership means different things to different people, it can result in toxic or healthy outcomes depending on the leader’s heart and attitude toward people. This brief Covers the topic of leadership: are leaders born or made? And then moves into scratching the surface of leadership development, starting with three critical personal development tools that anyone can quickly adopt and implement, such as developing character, communication, and listening skills, and ending with a broader view towards gaining more momentum along the leadership journey.

Note from the Author:

This 1452-word article “Are Leaders Born or Made” was initially written as a class paper for my Human Resource MBA course at Regent University; I decided to publish it on as I felt it was a good starting point for people wishing to begin their leadership journey. I hope this brings clarity, hope, and encouragement to all who read it. Please leave any comments, thoughts, or questions in the comments sections, and I will get back to you within 48 hours. May God’s plans for you take root and prosper.

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The Age-Old Question: Are Leaders Born Or Made?

If you ask 20 people, “What is leadership,” you will receive 20 alternative answers (What is leadership? 2014). Leaders come in all shapes and sizes, but what is leadership? Leadership is “influence” in its simplest basic form (Maxwell, 7 factors that influence, influence 2013). When we think of people who influence us, we may think of leaders or people who wish the best in others or bring out the worst in others; those who may want to dominate and control through cohesion and fear, or those who bring about change in a way that gives people autonomy and choice that allow us to best use their God-given talents for the betterment of society and self. (What is leadership? 2014). When we think of leadership, we may think of those in power or influence over us. However, not all leaders have formal titles. A leader is a mother, a father, a grandparent, a coach, a teacher, or any other person of influence over another, either through titles such as teacher or parent or by permission: through the free will of another to follow or be influenced by another (Maxwell, The 5 levels of leadership 2016).

This leads us to the article’s most important question, “Are leaders made or born?” This is an excellent question because, for many years, psychologists believed leaders had innate qualities that they were born with and were not teachable. However, according to Avolio, even though some people are born to be “movers and shakers of the word” blessed with high energy, intelligence, self-confidence, and the desire to lead and influence others, decades of data reveal that the development of leadership skills is indeed achievable and may be mastered by anyone who wishes to do so (Avolio, 1999). Avolio’s findings revealed that military leaders and high-ranking tech VPs had very involved parents who shaped them as children, giving them the tools, understanding, and drive to lead. Their parents accomplished this through challenging goals and by reshaping the idea of failure as a learning lesson using motivational explanations on how to succeed next time, instilling and enforcing high expectations and moral conduct to help their children appreciate diverse views and receive a coachable spirit (Avolio, 1999).

Suppose you need more proof that leaders are made and are not just born that way. In that case, we read in “Lead Like Jesus Revisited” that leaders are made, not born, and then through Panait, we see another viewpoint that although everyone has a particular potential to become a leader, with development, they may also be left behind which depend on situational factors such as adapting to an environment’s requirements. Even though some environments deter people from believing they have autonomy and leadership ability, it is not valid, and many leadership skills and abilities, like developing muscle, can be developed and strengthened through study, reflection, training, and practice (Blanchard et al., 2016; Panait, 2017).

Are Leaders Made or Born – Developing Leaders

As mentioned before, leadership isinfluence.” Leaders can be healthy or toxic, but all leadership skills, including communications skills, need to be developed, even those with natural talents for influencing and shaping others and their environment. Panait believes that to become a leader, one needs to create a vision and value, inspire commitment, challenge, and transform how one thinks and acts. This requires a formal leadership framework, starting with self-awareness of strengths and weaknesses, then moving into a reflection- an intellectual challenge of how the material is specifically relevant and converting insight into lessons and tools for problem-solving. This requires mentorship and trust in someone who can guide, shape, and help you grow into a leader (Panait, 2017). Breaking things down makes them more accessible for the average person who wishes to develop their leadership skills and abilities but may not have a mentor or person to help them along their leadership journey. This writer will refer to John Maxwell for easy-to-understand, nicely broken down, and chunked information for leadership wisdom and as a road map.

In John Maxwell’s book 21 Indispensable Qualities Of A Leader,” we discover traits we can shape and refine to help us develop personal leadership and increase our ability to influence with integrity.

Here are just three traits to get the readers started on their leadership-building journey:


Character is revealed in how a leader deals with the circumstances of life. Adversity is a crossroads that presents us with an issue where we may choose one of two paths: character or compromise. Leaders can become more robust when selecting a character, even if that choice brings negative consequences. Character development is at the heart of our development as leaders and human beings (Maxwell, 2022).

Character Improvement: Requires self-reflection.

Challenge: Spend time looking at the significant areas of your life and identifying where you might have cut corners, compromised, or let people down. These are considered your weak spots and should be addressed and rebuilt.

Look for Patterns: Is there a particular area where you have a weakness, or do you have a specific type of problem that keeps surfacing? This is an issue that needs to be addressed and reformed.

Take Responsibility: The beginning of character repair happens when we face our flaws, apologize, and deal with the consequences of our actions.

Rebuild: Create a plan that prevents making the same mistakes again.

I ask that we honor Colossians 3 by forgiving God, ourselves, and everyone else on the planet, alive or deceased, who has transgressed against us, and then ask God for forgiveness for our transgression against him and ourselves so we may be truly and wholly free from our past shortcomings and snares (Colossians 3, ESV).


Communication is one of the most critical leadership skills one should develop. It improves the depth and quality of all our relationships and career success. People will only follow you if they understand what you want and where you’re taking them. Become a more effective communicator by simplifying your message and focusing on the people you’re communicating with, remembering that the goal of all communication is action. Give them something to feel, remember, and do whenever you speak to people. Suppose you know your vision is excellent, yet people are still not buying it; your problem may be an inability to communicate effectively (Maxwell, 2022).



To Improve your Communication: Be clear as a bell. Examine a letter, memo, or other item you’ve recently written. Sentences should be short and direct. Readers should be able to grasp the words you’ve chosen and not need to refer to a dictionary, using the fewest words possible. A communicator’s best friends are simplicity and clarity.

Refocus Attention: Please pay attention to your focus when you communicate; focus on people while Thinking about their needs, questions, and desires. Meet people where they are, and you will be successful as an effective communicator.

Live Your Message: Find discrepancies between what you communicate and what you do so you may discover where your heart head and gut conflict so you can adjust your heart attitude or change your words to align with what you do or reflect who you want to be. Talk to trustworthy people to find out if you are living your message.

Receiving: Allow comments to wash over you without defensiveness; then make necessary changes in your life to be more consistent (Maxwell, The 21 irrefutable laws of leadership: Follow them and people will follow you 2022).

Last but not least…,


The overwhelming majority of communication problems come from poor listening, with so many voices competing for attention. Listening has two purposes: connecting with people and learning (Maxwell, 2022).



Improving Listening Skills: Listen for words, meanings, feelings, and undercurrents.

Change your Schedule: Make it a priority to listen to your followers, customers, competitors, and mentors regularly.

Meet People on Their Turf: A key to being a good listener is finding common ground, getting to know, and seeking common ground to build and connect with people.

Listen Between the Lines: As you interact with people, pay attention to factual content without ignoring the emotional content (Maxwell, The 21 irrefutable laws of leadership: Follow them and people will follow you 2022).

The above leadership qualities are an essential starting point for helping people develop their leadership skills. Now, let’s move on to the next section.

Words Of Encouragement

Although this paper barely scratches the surface of leadership development, the writer hopes the reader has found hope and confidence that everyone is a leader if they choose to be one. There are many ways to develop your leadership skills: reading, podcasts, and finding mentorships at work, school, or church; this paper is just an introduction to the fact that leaders are not born but made. And to understand that leadership is a journey that involves reflection and self-discovery, Learning how to solve complex and multilayered problems so you may be a strong leader in your own right and be aware of and overcome the dark side of leadership so that you have an easier time not only as a leader but to gain trust and not accidentally abuse the leader-follower relationships (McIntosh, 1997).

There are other nuances, too, such as 12 different leadership styles, just a couple are innovative, situational, command and control, servant leadership, and many other forms of leadership one may gravitate towards or move away from because it is not natural or desirable for them (Johannsen, 2023; Vandenberg, 2021). God gives each of us many talents and abilities, and they are all just waiting to be discovered like valuable gemstones hidden in the sea and under the ground (1 Peter 4:10-11 ESV). So, take heart; you are a leader, and your leadership discovery journey is just beginning.


Avolio, B. (1999). Are Leaders Born Or Made? Psychology Today32(5), 18.

Bible. (n.d.). Colossians 3 ESV.

Blanchard, K., Hodges, P., & Hendry, P. (2016). Lead like Jesus revisited. Thomas Nelson Publishers.

 1 Peter 4:10-11 ESV. (n.d.). 

Johannsen, M. (2023, July 5). 12 types of leadership styles (and where to use each). Legacee.

Maxwell, J. (2013, July 8). 7 factors that influence, influence. John Maxwell 7 factors that influence, influence.

Maxwell, J. (2016, August 30). The 5 levels of leadership. Five Levels of Leadership.

Maxwell, J. C. (2022, July 29). The 21 irrefutable laws of leadership. HarperCollins Leadership.

McIntosh, G. L. (1997). Overcoming the dark side of leadership. Baker Books.

Panait, C. (2017). Developing Leadership Skills. Identifying Leadership Qualities And Attributes. Review of the Air Force Academy, (1), 167-172.

University of Sydney. (2014, October 28). What is leadership? What is leadership?

Vandenberg, S. (2021, December 21). The innovative leader vs. the command-and-control leader. Innovation Management.,helping%20the%20team%20to%20find%20new%20ways%20forward.

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Answering The Age-Old Question: Are Leaders Born or Made?

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