Leaders born or made?
Which camp do you fit into? Born or made or possibly both?
There is much literature written about what makes an effective leader, especially in the context of born or made, Adair (2007) in an interview states that “we are not born as leaders, but we are born with the potential to become a leader. This potential has to be worked on and we have to go through a learning experience to equip us to become leaders”.
I have long held the view that people are born with innate abilities (e.g. leadership, entrepreneurial, creativity) and via some trigger these abilities will come to the fore.
I do not believe that anyone can be a leader even with the best training, just as I don’t believe that anyone can start and successfully run a company, there has to be self awareness and a willingness to want to lead.
Many theories – which one is right?
When considering the many theories, models and arguments which are used to describe a leader. Many popular leadership models describe transactional and transformational (Weber:1947, Burns: 1978 Bass:1985, 1990).
In brief, the Weber (1947) model identifies three kinds of leader/follower relations – traditional, bureaucratic and charismatic, he argues that none of the three ideal types occurs in isolation; and that depending upon the situation transitions and combinations can be observed and that a leader can be a combination of all 3.
Burns (1978) identifies and includes other leadership categories, moral (e.g. Ghandi) and amoral (e.g. Hitler). The amoral leader being someone who really wasn’t a true leader, but someone who was satisfying their own needs, rather than those of the followers, ‘a power wielder’.
Bass (1985) later developed his thoughts which included the idea that transactional leaders have followers, who are motivated through a system of rewards and punishment and that transformational/charismatic style inspires others to follow.
The multifactor leadership theory questionnaire (MLQ) developed by Bass (1985) evaluates different leadership styles and allows individuals to measure how they perceive themselves and considers others perceptions. MLQ includes looking at qualities found in transformational leadership, such as genuine concern for others, empowers, develops potential and encourages critical and strategic thinking.
In general terms Bass (1985, 1990) then suggest,s that the benefits of charismatic/transformational leadership, include creating an awareness of the vision among the followers, which will motivate the followers to go beyond their own interests for the good of the organisation.
It is suggested that transactional leaders work through creating clear structures, where it is clearly stated what is required of their subordinates, and the rewards that they get for following orders. Punishment may not mentioned, but could be implied with formal systems of discipline in place.
A simple way to look at this, is how a transactional leader and transformational leader might communicate. A transactional leader needs to speak clearly, so followers know what to do, transformational leaders must know how communicate their ideas and visions, so as to be able to motivate a wider range of followers in different ways.
Traits and skills
Stogdill (1974) identified a number of traits and skills that he believed are critical to leaders which can be discovered by studying successful leaders, such as ambitious, achievement orientated, assertive, energetic, persistent, willing to assume authority, and argues that if other people could also be found with these traits, then they, too, could also become great leaders. A simplistic, but interesting point if you were to consider the work done by Bandler & Grinder (1975) who created (Neuro linguistic programming) NLP modelling which seeks to capture patterns of excellence present, in anyone in any context, which can then be used to elicit positive changes of behaviour in others, implying that if model leadership behaviour exists it can be potentially replicated.
So is it the situation that stimulates leadership qualities?
If the NLP model is true, then Owen (2008) who argues, that despite the tendency to believe that charisma is an innate ‘trait’, states that it can be taught and be used for both good and bad. Bass (1985) suggests, it is reasonable to acknowledge that a certain amount of innate charisma is necessary, in that it requires the followers’ perceptions to be evoked to such an extent, that they will allow the leader to lead them given the right stimulus or situation.
Hersey & Blanchard (1988) created the Situational Leadership Model that allows you to adopt the leadership style most appropriate for the situation you are in given terms of the amount of direction and support that the leader gives to his or her followers. They also said that the leader’s style should be driven by the level of competence and commitment of the follower.
An interesting observation comes from Cameron and Green (2008) who discuss how leaders play roles depending upon the situation. They say that “These roles are shaped by the working environment, other employees, and by the personality and values of the leader themselves. Leadership roles are primarily about making something happen that would not otherwise take place”. Through history and more recent times we can witness different types of leaders attracting different followers, for example Obama who displays such qualities as charisma and charm and Brown who appears sombre and that different type of leaders have emerged for different times consider Ghandi, Mandela and Mother Teresa in comparison to J.F. Kennedy, Idi Amin or Winston Churchill.
We could argue that different businesses or organisations require different types of leaders, ways of leading and followers for differing situations and cultures and that for example a typically transformational leader may temporarily adopt another style where a situation arises which needs that course of action. Consider that on the battle ground you would expect the leader to be more autocratic and transactional (Bass: 1990) and issue an order for it to be followed rather than wait for a vote of hands as the opposing forces gain an advantage over you, whilst back at base you might witness transformational leadership (Bass:1990) which encourages people to collaborate, rather than working as individuals (and potentially competitively with one another) before deciding on a course of action.
No man is an island
Donne (1627) penned a poem/sermon where the first line stated that ‘No man is an island’ which means to me that no one is self-sufficient; everyone relies on others. So that great leaders will inspire and motivate others in whichever way is right for the situation and culture and that he/she will surround him/her self with a good team with similar values and characteristics with which to drive the business forward.
In summary the brief review of the literature tells us that, there are traits or characteristics that leaders typically display, that these could be innate, may be modelled and developed. That leaders tend towards a particular style, which may have other constituent parts and that given a situation, culture or type of follower a leader may adopt another style before reverting back to his or her natural style. That followers, will also be attracted to a type of leader given their natural follower style, culture, and situation. It must also be a consideration for a leader faced with a follower who is normally skilled, confident and motivated, that there may be times when he or she may still need, for example, directing when faced with a task requiring skills they don’t yet have. By adopting the appropriate leadership style, the leader and his or her followers will build strong relationships.
What if though, we consider that there is a leader in all of us? And that by being true to who we are, we can instill change through others for the greater good (whatever that means to you).
My questions aren’t really if leaders are born or made, is who are you and what kind of leader are you?
So, go on what do you think????
Jacqui Malpass is the author of 5 books including the two Navigate Executive Leadership ones. She is a strategist, loves ideas and creating innovative solutions to niggly solutions. If there is a process that needs creating and implementing, she is your gal. She also adores helping her clients to find and share their inspirational message in a book or by turning their books into online courses.