This must be one of the most debated topics in the realm of management literature. In a recent workshop, I was asked my views, which I present here.

The bottom line to me: Leaders are made and not born.

Let me say why I think so:

  • Admittedly, there are some traits which we inherit. These may be strongly formed in some people and less so in others
  • However, the environment in which we grow up shapes our leadership abilities more than anything else
  • As is well said, we are creatures of our environment. A supporting  yet demanding environment gets the best out of us. A non-demanding environment makes us complacent and lazy.
  • Leadership characteristics can be acquired. Many become over time very different people from what they started off as. I am not talking of the rags to riches stories but of changes in their personalities evolved over time due to the environments they were exposed to
  • There are some things you can never acquire like the height you didn’t grow to, the looks you never had etc. but strengths in other facets of leadership can more than overcome these seemingly drawbacks. India’s Prime Minister at the time of the 1965 war with Pakistan was Lal Bahadur Shastri. Although rather unimposing to look at- from within he possessed resolve of steel
  • Leadership has different facets. When we say that leaders are made it is not to suggest that there are leaders for all seasons. These are indeed rare. There are some leaders who thrive in a particular situation but those very characteristics which make them successful in some circumstances may be their downfall in others. Perhaps no one could have led the British in the Second World War like Sir Winston Churchill. Yet he was considered a poor choice for leading a war weary post-war Britain

The essence of leadership, to me, is the ability to inspire your team to achieve great heights. To paraphrase what President Eisenhower is supposed to have said about leadership. It is like a piece of string. Push it and it will go nowhere. Pull it and you can take it wherever you want.

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