Are Leaders Made or Born?

There’s an endless leadership question that we’ve heard a lot over the years...

Are leaders made… or are they born?

Is it a matter of DNA or is it a developmental aspect? Certainly if you look at the attitudes and intrinsic psychological make-up of people, there are certain things that may be helpful to them.

Many of you have probably have participated in the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). People often look closely as to how they rate as either an introvert or an extrovert and focus in on that as a factor that may be helpful for leadership. There may be some degree of truth in that.

Extreme interverts, people who find it difficult to work with large groups for a period of time. Not that they can’t be good leaders, but that they lose energy they may find this a difficult task, certainly. At the same token, extreme extroverts also may find it very difficult to lead an organization. But a simple awareness of where you are on that cursor may be very valuable to you.

At the same time most people would argue that leadership- while we know where we begin- perhaps that portion of our DNA or psychological make-up can be developed over time through study, practice, and reflection.

Let me give you a metaphor as an example. I’m a big baseball fan, so oftentimes I use sports examples, particularly looking at past baseball players. Think of two of them.

Think of Ted Williams who played for the Boston Red Sox. Arguably, the best left-handed batter in the history of Major League Baseball. But in terms of his physical make up, one could argue that physically he was better equipped than many of his peers.

Why? Well normally if you’re left-handed, your dominant eye will be your left eye. If you’re right-handed, your dominant eye will be your right eye. If you stand in the batter’s box as a left-hander, that means that your right eye is the one closest to the pitcher. Consequently, your dominant eye is looking across the bridge of your nose, where there is a small shadow.

Williams was a freak. Even though left-handed, his dominant eye when he was tested was his right eye. Which meant he had a small millisecond advantage over any other batter in terms of picking out the pitch, determining whether it was a fast ball, slider, or a curve.

In similar fashion, Jason Giambi (which many have pointed to as one of the best pitch hitters in modern baseball) was also you could argue, a physiological freak.

Why? He had 20/10 vision- better than perfect. So consequently he too could see the baseball just a little bit better. So we’d have to say these guys had certain physiological advantages.

BUT, that didn’t make them great hitters. What made them great hitters was practice in the batting cage, the study of pitchers, and the study of techniques. So it was a combination of those two things. Physical, psychological make-up and hard work, training, and development that made them the great baseball players they were.

The Israelis have looked at this in some detail by examining the performance of soldiers during various battles, particularly during Yom Kippur back in 1973. An Israeli research scientist, Dr. Reuven Gal, examined 283 soldiers to determine which ones were the most effective in battle. He said what he discovered by talking to them is they normally put themselves into 3 different categories when in combat. One group saw the situation as hopeless. Another group saw the situation as stressful, but challenging. The last and most effective group were the soldiers who viewed the particular moment as a fascinating opportunity and a period of excitement. Consequently, it was a function of both their behavior and their experience that made them effective.

From that, the Israelis created the following equation:

Leadership = P * M * D

What does that stand for?


That last factor development is key and essential if people are going to move forward and progress as leaders in any organization.

We want to hear from YOU! Do you agree with Jeff’s thoughts? Share your comments below.