leaders are born not made

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. Leaders are born, not made

Over the years there has been many opinions on this statement, and when trying to understand leadership success many approaches have been looked at.

Researchers at the start of the 0th century focused on traits that leaders possessed. It was thought that some people were born with traits which made them a leader. Before the nd World War a lot of research was carried out, which sought to identify these characteristics. This is known as the Great Man Approach, since being born with these characteristics made you a “great man”.

So is it true that leaders are born? Before seeking to answer this question, the theories should be examined. Stodgill (148) and Bass (15) looked at people who had achieved “greatness” and tried to identify traits which they all possessed, and distinguished them from others. They identified 5 main characteristics which consisted with effective leadership-

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- intelligence

- dominance

- self confidence

- level of energy and activity

- task relevant knowledge

They deduced that some traits do seem to contribute to effective leadership. However, even they stated traits vary depending on organisational situation.

The main problem with the trait theory is that leaders can possess very different traits, and still be effective leaders. If we take for example effective leaders such as Margaret Thatcher and Richard Branson they lead in very different ways and possess very different traits. Thatcher was very outspoken and dominant, with “warrior” characteristics, where as Branson is much more manipulative and subdued. This isn’t to say they don’t possess any of the same characteristics, may be they are both very self confident people. The main point is that they possess very different characteristics, but are both extremely effective leaders. Hence there is only a weak link found between personal traits (i.e. traits you are born with) and leader success. I wouldn’t say all leaders are born, many are born with the particular traits making them successful, but some aren’t. Background and the environment plays a large role in shaping our characteristics. Looking at a leader such as Martin Luther King, who was subject to such prejudice and unfairness, he wouldn’t have been the person he was if it hadn’t been for the environment he was in and his upbringing. He may still have had the traits to be a great leader, but may never have had a chance to be one.

This isn’t to say that characteristics we are born with don’t contribute to effective leadership. Yet I feel leaders can be made. Who is to know whether leaders such as Martin Luther King learnt his leadership skills or he was born with them. I believe skills can be learnt “ Major competencies can be learnt. We are all educatable � if the basic instinct to learn is there.”

The behaviour style theory looked at leaders behaviour and started during the nd world war, helping to develop better military leaders. It was a result of the trait theory not explaining leadership effectiveness which brought about this approach. It suggested that anyone who adopted the appropriate behaviour can be a good leader in any situation. Hence leaders can be made. Kurt Lewin was one of the first to study leadership behaviour. He implied leaders were either autocratic or democratic. Tannenbaum and Schmidt took this idea further and suggested that leadership exists on a continuum, based on employee participation. Blake and Mouton produced a leadership grid, which showed leadership effectiveness based upon factors, concern for people and results. High concern for people and results was believed to be the best style for leading. All the behavioural style theories were based on the fact that anyone could learn the behaviour of a leader, and this resulted in their effectiveness. Yet our behaviour is just as significant as our traits, the behaviour a leader adopts doesn’t necessarily determine his success, what works in one instance may not work in another. However, in truth there is more than just traits and behaviour which determines success, the environment as well as the type of followers also plays a large role. Contingency Theories took this approach, that leadership effectiveness is contingent upon the leader (his traits, behaviour and styles) the followers (their needs, training and maturity) and the organisational situation ( the task, structure, systems and environment) Previously researchers took the universalistic approach, looking for universal traits and behaviours that would work in any situation. One contingency model is Hersey and Blanchard’s Situational Theory which focused on the fact that leaders can adjust their task or relationship style to accommodate the readiness of subordinates. Basically contingency theories contend that determining the tasks, subordinates and organisational situation, leaders can determine a style of leadership which will be most successful. I believe this is definitely true, I don’t think it is necessarily an easy process, and not everyone possess traits which will allow them to learn to become an effective leader, but for most I think it is achievable

I believe that some personality traits that you are born with do contribute to making a good leader, hence some leaders may have been “born” leaders. Yet traits do not guarantee effective leadership, just greater likelihood. Some people are inborn with traits, but some are affected by our background and environment. It is often our background what “makes us” who we are. Some people are also born with the characteristics which make an effective leader, but unless they are in the right environment will never be one. After looking at all the models, the contingent seems most appropriate, all aspects, the leader, the situation and followers determine effective leadership. It is not just traits and behaviours, hence leaders aren’t always born leaders.

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