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Great leaders are born and not made

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A leader is defined as a person with the ability to influence and guide a group of people to accomplish a common goal. In simple words, a leader is someone who is followed by the people. There are different types of leaders and various leadership theories which may help to understand the characteristics of a leader and also the leadership process. Thus, the most basic and commonly asked question that arises is- Are leaders born or made?

Leadership Theories
Trait Theories
According to trait theories, effective leaders share a number of common characteristics or ‘traits’. Early trait theories follow a Darwinian approach and suggest that leadership and these traits are innate and instinctive that you either have or don’t have. Research has now proven that certain traits can be developed within one’s self. Trait theories help us to identify the traits and qualities required to be a good leader, such as integrity, honesty, and many more. However, possession of these traits or a combination of them does not always guarantee success.

Behavioural Theories
Behaviour theories are established on the behaviour of effective leaders in the work place. It is based on how the leaders decide what is important and not important for their team and also, on how the leaders treat the members of their team.

In the 1930s, Kurt Lewin developed a framework on the basis of behaviour theories and categorized leaders into 3 broad leadership types: 1. Autocratic leaders – An autocratic leader is a leader with complete power and self-assurance to arrive at conclusions. They influence others and impose their will and no one challenges them. This type of leadership acts as a hindrance for creative people, as they are unable to contribute towards the process of decision-making and thus, are unable to attain job satisfaction.

2. Democratic leaders- This leader follows a democratic form of leadership where the leader listens to and studies the team’s ideas, but

holds the responsibility to take the final decision. Team players can give to the final decision. This increases the people satisfaction and ownership, as the team members feel that their ideas are considered before taking the final decision. This type of leadership also fosters the decision-making process as the leader is able to gather information from more sources. A major disadvantage of democratic leadership is that it leads to slow decision-making and hence, cannot be used when the decision is required in a short period.

3. Laissez-faire leaders – The laissez-faire style of leadership is a nonauthoritarian style of leadership. The leader does not give continuous guidelines or supervision to the team members, as it is believed that the employees are highly qualified and experienced and do not need much supervision to meet the required goals. The leader tries to influence the team through less obvious means. This style of leadership is for the leaders who do not believe in getting involved in the working of the team. Thus, this leads to none or very little control over the team, which ultimately results in high costs, goals being rarely achieved and the team failing to meet the deadlines.

The behaviour of the leader affects how the team performs. Researchers have proven that different leadership types are proper at different situations. The best leaders analyze the situation and use the right leadership behaviour for the situation.

Contingency Theories
Since no type of leader was deemed correct, new theories started taking shape. These theories emphasized that the best leadership style depends on the situations. Thus, the analysis of the circumstances became essential to predict the best style of leadership.

The contingency theories address the problems of choosing the right style of leadership for different situations such as, which style is required to make quick decisions, or which leadership style leads to full support of the team to achieve goals effectively, or whether the leader should lay emphasis on the people or the task.

Popular contingency-based theories of leadership include ‘The HerseyBlanchard Situational Leadership Theory’, ‘House’s Path-Goal Theory’ and ‘Fiedler’s Contingency Model’, which link leadership style with the maturity of each members of the leader’s team.

Power and Influence Theories
Power and influence theories of leadership discuss the ways by which leaders get things answered, i.e., by applying power and influence and then, they look at the resulting leadership styles. The most popular of these theories is ‘French and Raven’s Five Forms of Power’. This model categorizes positional power into three types – legitimate, reward, and coercive, and discusses two major sources of personal power – expert and referent (personal appeal and charm). The model suggests that using personal power is the more honest alternative, and that one should turn on building expert power (the power that comes with being an expert in the job) because it is the most logical source of personal ability.

Another leadership style that uses power and influence is ‘transactional leadership’. This approach suggests that all jobs are done for rewards and for no other reason. Thus, it emphasizes on the design of the task and the reward structures. However, it may not be considered as an appropriate leadership strategy to establish relationships and create a motivating work environment. But, it often works and is therefore used by leaders on a daily basis to get things done. Similarly, ‘leading by example’ is also considered as an example of power and influence theories.

Leaders are Born
When we discuss the Trait theory of leadership, we identify certain traits or characteristics required to be an efficient leader. These traits or characteristics may be innate and by birth. It may be hard for organizations to find the ‘right people’ with the ‘right characteristics’ to lead. This idea is based on the Darwinian approach, which suggests that some personnel have instinctive qualities, which help them to survive and assume roles as leaders. This approach rules out the ideology that people can be developed to be effective leaders. If we consider the behaviour of a leader, it is composed of a combination of different traits. Since the traits of a leader may be innate, thus, the resultant behavior may form the leadership style followed by the leader.

Recently, a genotype called ‘rs4950’ was discovered by the team of University College London which proved that leadership could be an inherited trait.

““We have identified a genotype, called rs4950, which appears to be associated with the passing of leadership ability down through generations,” said lead author Dr. Jan-Emmanuel De Neve (UCL School of Public Policy). “The conventional wisdom – that leadership is a skill – remains largely true, but we show it is also, in part, a genetic trait.””

Over the years, great man theories have defined that the mental ability for leadership is inherent, that great leaders are born, not made. These theories have portrayed leaders as heroic, mythic and destined to rise to leadership when required. The belief was that the great leaders will rise when confronted with the appropriate situation. The term ‘great man’ was used in earlier times as leadership was thought of as a manly tone, particularly in terms of military leaders.

In earlier times, leadership was on the basis of hierarchy. Kings would pass on their rule to their heirs and hence, the heir of the king would become a leader by birth. An example of a leader who inherited leadership would be Genghis Khan. He became an emperor by inheriting his father’s throne and led his country. Thus, leadership as a trait can be passed through generations, but it may be a matter of chance to inherit leadership and also an environment that structures a leader. Therefore, everyone acquires certain leadership qualities by birth. Those qualities may not be prominent in a majority of the people, but all human beings do possess leadership qualities by birth.

Leaders are made
Even if the traits are innate, their development depends on the surroundings, the environment and the leadership opportunities. The researches responsible for the discovery of ‘rs4950 genotype’ state that the presence of the genotype does not always guarantee that the person will be a good leader. It is thus possible that leadership qualities may develop in a person. Contingency theories have proven that the best leadership style depends on the situation. The ability to choose the right leadership style comes from experience, and that experience comes from maturity and knowledge.

Similarly, if we study power and influence theories, one comes to know that it takes time and effort to establish a certain amount of power and

influence over someone else. The very existence of Business Schools is proof that leadership does not come by birth, but is a skill that is nurtured in students, by teaching them about the various management and leadership concepts. There are many examples of people who became leaders when they had to address a certain situation. Common examples being Napoleon Bonaparte, Barack Obama, and Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi.

There are also many researchers working on this topic. According to them, leadership qualities and development of these qualities essentially comes from the environment and the situations in which the person grows and learns.

We have discussed that all people possess some leadership characteristics by birth, but it is our interaction with the environment that determines whether the person will be a leader or not. We are in perpetual interaction with others, we may attach real and sustained admiration to some and others where admiration is punctual. From these interactions we may restructure our values and behaviour positively, leading to an increase in the frequency of the behaviour or negatively, which will result in a decrease in the frequency of the behavior. We meet different people with different values, thought process, personalities, opinions, beliefs, goals, cultural backgrounds, ambitions, work habits and dreams and as we interact with others we adopt and share different behaviour traits from them.

We discuss in the trait theory that a person may or may not possess leadership skills from birth but, merely the possession of leadership traits is not enough. For example, if in a family business, the member possesses leadership skills but is not willing to lead employee or to develop his/her skills, then the leadership traits prove to be of no use. Thus, possession of leadership traits becomes useless if one does not have the will or courage to develop and apply these skills in the given environment.

Similarly, there may be cases where a person from a non-leadership trait family may become a leader by developing the required leadership skills. Therefore, will power of a person may develop leadership skills. Conclusion

Understanding the nature of leadership and developing strong leadership skills is the important thing. Traits or characteristics of leadership are inherited in nature, which are already mapped in the gene. However, the  environment, such as feedback and social interaction, play an important role in the development of a leadership skill, which can have a huge impact. A person who is a good leader possesses the right combination of traits, which have been developed through time, and applies them with an appropriate style of leadership in every different situation. It is very difficult to decide if a leader is born or made as both of the statements can be proved right.

The discovery of the leadership genotype does prove that leaders are born but, it is also true that leadership skills can be developed in a person. If we analyze the leadership theories, it is not clear if a leader is born or made because, the first two theories i.e., the trait theory and the behavior theory suggest that leaders are born whereas the second and the third theories i.e., the contingency and the power and influence theory suggest that leadership qualities depend on the environment. Since the environment is dynamic, leadership also has to be dynamic. Thus, possession of leadership qualities does not always guarantee success, success depends on how the qualities are developed and put to use. Therefore, it would be wrong to say that leaders are born and not made.


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