Leadership Barometer 100 Leaders Made or Born

July 7, 2021

The question of whether leaders are made or born is one of the more common issues in the literature on leadership. So much has been written on this one topic, it seems like there should be no need for a new article.  However, I come at the subject from a different perspective and reach a conclusion about leaders and leadership that may surprise you.

Are leaders made or born?  When someone asked Ken Blanchard that question, he answered “yes.”  That is a great answer because, indeed leaders are both born and made.

Everyone is born with some level of “leadership genes” in his or her DNA. Most people have a modest level of leadership potential based on this God-given latent talent.

Some individuals are born into a long line of effective or powerful leaders and have a kind of gift for rallying people to their cause even at a very early age.  John F. Kennedy is an example of this type of person. If you study his life, you will see that it would have been difficult for him to not grow up into a powerful political leader.  The same could have been said for Bobbie, and Ted.  Many people believe Ted would have been president if it had not been for Chappaquiddick.

I like to consider the less famous people and ask a simple question. What percentage of the adult population would have the ability to become at least decent leaders provided they were paired up with a great mentor who took the time to teach them how to lead and provided them with opportunities to grow into the role?  That question requires some serious thinking to answer.

There are three types of people who probably would never make decent leaders regardless of who coached them. People with very low mental capacity or Emotional Intelligence would not have the ability to make rational decisions, so they would not make good leaders as few people would willingly follow them.

Another group we need to exclude is people who are lazy and have absolutely no desire to lead. These people make poor leaders because they do not have the initiative and drive to get up every day and do the work.

A third category would be those people who are not willing to accept mentoring.

I contend that most of the people who do not fit into the categories above have the potential of becoming decent leaders, if they were properly mentored. My guess is that this leaves 60-70% of the population with the potential. You might quibble about another category and take the estimate down to 50% or so, but I believe that is as low we should go.

The interesting thing is that there are so few really good leaders in the world. In fact, I believe the lack of good leaders is a critical shortage that is limiting our world today. Yet, if my estimates above are in the ball park, there is no dearth of candidates, so what is the problem? The problem is a shortage of great mentors!

Most leaders are so consumed just trying to optimize their own leadership performance that they give little thought to the development of other leaders.  In my book that makes them not such great leaders after all.  My favorite quotation is one of my own: “The highest calling for any leader is to grow other leaders.”  If more leaders understood this, we could greatly accelerate the growth of a new generation of leaders.

I am dedicating the remainder of my professional life to the cause of getting more leaders to step up to their mentor responsibilities. I will be starting another series of articles on the topic of mentoring. The series will be called “Mastering Mentoring.”

 John Maxwell calls the impact of mentoring, the multiplier effect.  If each great leader took responsibility for generating at least 10 great leaders for the next generation, our world would be a much better place.  If you are a leader, consider if you are leveraging your talents in this way.  If not, it is never too late to start.

The preceding information was adapted from the book Leading with Trust is like Sailing Downwind, by Robert Whipple. It is available on www.leadergrow.com.  

Robert Whipple is also the author of The TRUST Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals and, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online. Bob consults and speaks on these and other leadership topics. He is CEO of Leadergrow Inc. a company dedicated to growing leaders.