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Are Leaders Born or Made?

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The debate of whether leaders are born or made dates back many centuries. In today's modern society, we are seeing a rapid decline of heredity leadership and a significant rise in role models being business or political leaders. Daniel Goleman argued in Social Intelligence on the topic (chapter 10) and points out that the debate turns out to be pointless, as it assumes that our genes and our environment are independent of each other.

For business leaders, it's a question worthy of exploration. When we ask whether someone can be "brought up," as a leader is fundamentally questioning whether we can train people to be leaders, regardless of their personal attributes. The very idea of "developing" leaders suggests that there is a skill set to be developed. Furthermore, it is the right mix of experience, traits, skills and the organizational environment that makes great leaders. Identifying those characteristics that can and cannot be developed is clearly important as organizations endeavor to inhabit their talent pools for critical leadership positions.

We have seen many great leaders in the twentieth century. The names that come to mind are Margaret Thatcher, Abraham Lincoln, Golda Meir, Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Adolf Hitler just to name a few. Researchers have tried to analyze cases and the debate still goes on. In my personal opinion, I believe that a leader is born with certain qualities, which, when honed through nurture brings about his/her success.

Successful leaders have the intrinsic ability to have others in a group to accept and follow their directives or command. This ability takes a strong, dominant extrovert personality and oodles of charisma. Studies have shown that these are psychological and character traits that the person who emerges into adulthood from adolescence will demonstrate for the rest of their life. Technical knowledge is acquired through schooling, training and experience and is thus developed. Of course, intelligence sets the stage and influences the extent, retention and ability to leverage learning. The more complicated the learning material, the greater the level of intelligence needed to master and retain the material.

While intelligence is generally thought to be inborn, its characterization and dimensions have been subjects of great debates. Overlooking the arguments about whether intelligence is culturally defined, successful leaders do not need to be geniuses. What they need to possess are strong enough skills in critical thinking, judgment and verbal reasoning to develop and leverage the body of knowledge that is required for their particular area. While the extent to which individuals can develop these skills might be genetically determined, it is likely each of them can be developed and refined through experience and education.

In addition,



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