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‘Leaders are born not made’. To what extent you agree or disagree with this statement? Justify your answer using leadership theories and relevant examples.
Leadership is essential in today’s competitive business environment because through effective leadership problems can be handled efficiently, especially in an organizational context. Leaders guide and drive business entities in the path of success (Swaroop and Prasad 2013). Leadership is a process by which individuals influences others or a group of individuals to accomplish a common objective and drive the organization in a manner that ensures organizational cohesiveness and coherence (Northouse, 2007, p3). Authority, influence and other traits that define leaders continue to be debated by leadership scholars. The point of argument is whether leaders are born with these traits or they acquire them through nurturing. This argument is primarily attributed to how leadership positions are manifest in our communities. The way people think about leadership affects how they make out of the leaders around them. Equally, individuals’ beliefs about how leadership develops affect how they evaluate the leadership potential of others (Gentry, Deal, Stawiski and Ruderman 2012). So, are leaders born or made? In this paper, the author argues that it is true, to some extent, that leaders are born; however to a larger extent, leaders develop their leadership characteristics and attributes through a nurturing process.
It is apparent that people have traits that may influence their actions as leader and this supports the argument that leaders are born. In what is known as trait leadership, it can be argued that leaders are born with the characteristics of leadership. According to Sharma and Jain (2013) the knowledge and skills possessed by a leader is likely to be influenced by his or her traits of attributes, such as ethics, values, beliefs and character. Additionally, Gentry et al. (2012) argued that many leadership characteristics such as the ability to influence, empathy, commitment and resiliency and visionary thinking appear to be inborn in leaders. Leaders who are born seem to possess the ability to engage in complex conversations, embrace complexity and they productively deal with conflict (Swaroop and Prasad 2013). These traits make individuals to be real leaders and are seen to be effective in any environment where leadership is applied such as business, sports or government.
The notion that leaders are born is supported by the Bass’ Theory of Leadership which states that how people become leaders can be explained in three basic ways. One of the explanations is that certain personality traits can make individuals to naturally occupy leadership roles. This is actually the Traits Theory as explained Sharma and Jain (2013). Traits theory is one of the earliest theories that focused mostly on the personality and character of effective leaders including how they behaved. It tried to establish traits that people need to have to be become successful leaders. According to this theory, good leaders have traits such as intelligence, scholarship, social participation and dependability (Northouse, 2007; Winkler, 2010; Sharma and Jain 2013). People with such characteristics are willingly acceptable in leadership positions in different environments. Therefore, historical perspectives influence the thinking that leaders are born with traits and talents that cause them to be successful leaders. Ideally, in most cases leaders are knowledgeable, sociable, intelligent, persistent and attractive; however there exist exceptions(Komives, Lucas and McMahon 2009; Kristina 2009). Thus, there is some truth in the idea that leaders are born and not necessarily made.
Although traits or attributes such as ethics, beliefs, character and values make leaders unique, they can only contribute successfully to the process of leadership by applying their leadership skills and knowledge. The knowledge and skills of leadership are acquired through nurturing (Key and Dennis 2010). This leads to the argument that most successful leaders are made even through they may have some inborn traits of being leaders. As observed Marques (2010) there are certain qualities and behaviours of leadership that can be taught and nurtured. These include decision making, problem solving and communication skills. Through leadership development programs, leaders can develop essential leadership attributes such as self-awareness, self-management and self-correction, which may not be inherent in a leader (Gentry et al 2012). There are many people who may not be born leaders but they can become effective leaders when provided with proper training and mentoring. This indicates that leaders can actually be made and become successful in the leadership careers.
As explained earlier, leadership potential exists within individuals but identifying this potential may be difficult. Nevertheless, leadership potential in people can be learned through exploration from within self or they can be generated by outside events (Key and Dennis 2010). Upon learning the techniques of true leadership, people can build the confidence they require to lead. The more experience people have in acting as true leaders, the more they find it easier to deal with more complex issues in leadership, and leadership becomes more natural and rewarding (Farlow 2012). According to Brooks and Johnson (2010) effective and successful leadership can be taught and learned which challenges the notion that leadership is in-born. Ideally, all leaders go through the learning process in their leadership careers. Throughout their careers, leaders learn, practice, improve and reflect on what they do (Brooks and Johnson 2010). This implies that in order to be better leaders, individuals must learn what true leadership entails and hence, may not simply rely on their inherent traits to lead successfully.
One of the leadership theories that support the idea that leaders are made is the Situational Leadership Theory by Hersey-Blanchard. This theory argues that leadership is about adjusting to different situations as and when they unfold. As such, leaders should change their approach to leadership on a basis of the circumstances at hand and the people they are leading (Free Management Ebooks 2010; Winkler 2010). It is right, therefore, to argue that when a leader is able to adjust to the prevailing situations as soon as possible, his or her leadership would be beneficial to many (Kristina 2009). The ability to act this way is acquired through experience and learning process. The Situational Leadership Theory also suggests that that people who being led vary in maturity as so should leaders adjust their leadership approach to suit particular group being led (FME 2010). For example, a leader who is not experienced may not have the confidence or skills to lead more experienced people. This shows that it is only when leaders are able to shape their approach to the talent and maturity of the people being led that their leadership can be effective.
Flexibility is important in true leadership and it can be acquired through experience. Therefore, situations play an essential role in leadership requirements and they make leaders more outstanding (FME 2010). As Kristina (2009) noted, effective leaders posses significant leadership traits such as aggressive, intelligence, insightfulness, responsibility, persistence and self-confidence. These leadership traits are essential, but people are not leaders primarily because they have certain trait (Kristina 2009). Importantly, the leadership traits need to be appropriate to the circumstances in which a leader is practicing to make leadership successful.
It is fundamentally agreed by different school of thoughts that all leaders posses particular behavioural characteristics. This implies that leaders are defined by their characteristics of leadership which they often display in their positions of control or management (Swaroop and Prasad 2013). Therefore, the fact that we define leaders by particular traits which are developed and formed over time, it is meaningful to argue that leaders are also made. Good leaders are made over as a period of time(Farlow2012). As Sharma and Jain (2013) argue, the development of leadership traits and characteristics in a person are facilitated by external factors like family and environment, as well as internal factors such as self-will and personality. In fact, features that control the making of leaders include abilities, values, personality and skills.
To reinforce the argument that leaders are more made than born, let’s consider one of the political leaders known as Nelson Mandela who was the first black president of South Africa. Mandela became the South African president when he was 86 years old and after he had been in prison for 27 years (Stengel 2016). He had a vision to become the president of South Africa even before he ascended into power in1994. To be successful in his leadership, Mandela possessed leadership attributes that he acquired over a period of time. Additionally, his leadership characteristics were influenced by the environment in which he lived including other external factors. As a young boy, he grew up in a village rearing cattle but he was motivated to become a leader by his vision of creating equal opportunity for all people (Stengel 2016). Mandela was tactical and strategic such that he knew how, when and what he was supposed to do always in order to achieve his goals as a leader. The art of being tactical and strategic as observed Brooksand Johnson (2010) is facilitated by various leadership skills such as negotiation and persuasion, as well as executing leadership roles effectively and efficiently. As the president and the leader of South Africa, Nelson Mandela was keen on applying his leadership approach in order to ensure that people followed his leadership enthusiastically. Ideally, the greatest legacy for Mandela as the president of South Africa is the way he decided to live his leadership life (Stengel 2016). Additionally, his success as a leader is highly attributed to his ability, character and skills that he developed over time before even he was elected the president.
The example above illustrates that good leaders are made and not born. In a person have the determination and the desire, he or she can become an effective leader like Nelson Mandela. Effective leaders develop leadership qualities through an endless process of education, self-study, training and experience (Sharma and Jain 2013). Leadership is about courage to think big and take hard decisions. To inspire others into higher levels of collaboration, a leader must be a professional, know self and four factors of leadership (communication, leader, follower, situation), and provide direction (Sharma and Jain 2013; Swaroop and Prasad 2013). These do not happen naturally, but leaders acquire them through ongoing work and learning. Therefore, successful leaders work and learn continuously in order increase their knowledge and skills in leadership.
In conclusion, the trait theory of leadership seems to suggest that people are born with certain characteristics which influence their actions as leaders. In respect to this, such leaders are said to be born and not made. However, it is important to appreciate that leadership is not a talent but a skill which people acquire through training, learning, education, experience and continuous practice. To a large extent, leaders are made due to their exposure to external circumstances and environment. The road to leadership involves continuous nurturing. The life of leaders is full of sacrifices and struggles and they live to be remembered even after their death because when in leadership positions they live more in the hearts of their followers like in the case of Nelson Mandela. Truly, leaders are made and not born.
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