Are leaders born or grown?

This is something I spend a lot of time thinking about. It fascinates me.

I wonder about it in the context of my own leadership journey… and how I got to where I am.

I wonder about it when I gaze at my beautiful children full of promise and try to imagine them in life 5 or 10 or 20 years from now. I certainly wonder about it when I enter an organization (as a consultant or customer) and observe the leadership around me.

Depending on the day, I sway between “born” and “grown”… but I have trouble drawing a firm line in the sand. Today, I would say they are grown, not born. Ask me after a glass of wine and good discussion and I could convince you they are born, not grown.

The argument for “Grown“: We may all have great potential within us at birth, but our surroundings, our caregivers, mentors, teachers, peers, family and of course our experiences in life are what shape our beliefs, our actions and our true potential. We are a blank canvas and who we become is largely the sum of all the things we touch and experience.

Men make history and not the other way around. In periods where there is no leadership, society stands still. Progress occurs when courageous, skillful leaders seize the opportunity to change things for the better.
Harry S. Truman

The argument for “Born“: How is it that in the most dire of circumstances and the most grim of experiences we see incredible leaders emerge? Perhaps DESPITE their surroundings incredible things emerge from the most unlikely sources. It MUST be something in the soul,spirit or even DNA of this person that allows for such leadership to emerge. In today’s day and age of social media, Leaders who don’t have the “title” of leader all around us are inspiring and encouraging others, often by just being “who they are”.

As we look ahead into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others.
Bill Gates

So is it a cop-out to say “a bit of both” is the answer?

I truly believe each single person on this planet has the immense opportunity to inspire others, to create a movement, to move others to action, to make a difference.

Yet what about those people who don’t even know they are leading? or that years later they will be known as inspiring ?

Is this man in Tianemmen Square someone you would consider a  Leader? Why? Why Not?

I invite to you to consider these 15 Great Leaders Throughout History

Ghandi; Vince Lombardi; Franklin D Roosevelt; Steve Jobs; Nelson Mandela; Gloria Steinem; Golda Meir; Martin Luther King Jr; Winston Churchill; Douglas MaCarthur; Eleanor Roosevelt; Oprah… among others.

Born? or Grown? Were they considered extraordinary leaders early on? what were they like as children?

I leave you with this thought from Tom Peters;

Leaders don’t create followers, they create more leaders.

If this is a good take on Leadership (which it is), then I still think “Born” AND “Grown” have a place. Sometimes what seems ordinary to someone becomes extraordinary to someone else.

We may not be Leaders in title, but each of us has the ability to create other leaders. As parents, teachers, friends, colleagues, mentors, coaches and managers…. the manner in which we conduct ourselves creates the opportunity for brilliance to emerge in others. This is why it’s not about how many followers you have… but how many new leaders you are creating.

So forward. email or share this with whoever comes to mind today in your world that you believe has great potential as a leader, or someone who you think is an outstanding leader. Preface the link with your own words as to why you chose them. It’s a gift in more ways than one.