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Leaders Are Born And Not Made History Essay

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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016

Influence, authority and many defining characteristics of leaders have been debated for decades. Are leaders born with these characteristics or not? The overarching reason for this argument is evident in the crucial nature leadership positions represent in our communities. Leadership is as old has man, family and his organized community. However “The story of leadership begins not all that long ago in the late 1800s.”1 The resonating question of “Are leaders born or made” is one of the preeminent discuss in leadership. Over the centuries the continuous relevance of leadership in families and the organized community has largely made this question a subject of debate.

Leaders are individuals that have leadership traits and skills and are commonly defined by some of the following characters visionary, persuasive, influential e.t.c. Defined by the Cambridge Online Dictionary “a leader is a person who manages or controls other people, especially because of his or her ability or position:”2 In general leaders are usually tagged as either a good leader or a bad leader; these general statements are based on opinions and judgments of people which can be biased. However all leaders good or bad (depending on what side one see’s it from) have some fundamental similar characteristics. Hence, following this trend the question of “are leaders born or made” continues to arise and discussed. The different school of thoughts either supporting “Leaders are born and not made”, “Leaders are made not born” or in between “Leaders are born and not made” all agree on the fundamentals that certain behavioral characteristics are found in all Leaders. Behavioral characteristics can be defined as the range of peculiar actions or mannerism someone exhibits. Therefore it is safe to establish that leaders are defined by certain set of characteristics and exhibition of these characteristics in a position of management or control is the act of leading.

Since leaders are defined by certain characters and these characteristics of leaders are formed and developed over a period of time. I support the fact that “Leaders are made and not born”. The making of a leader is a process which is culminated over a period of time and definitely not by or at birth. The characteristics and traits development are a product of internal (e.g. personality, self-will etc.) and external factors (e.g. environment, family etc.). These set of broad fundamental characteristics that influence the making of leaders are summarized as follows personality, values, abilities and skills.

In order to reaffirm my support that “Leaders are made” samples of leaders from business and politics will be discussed to establish that leaders are not born but made.

Kristina G. Ricketts” Behaving Intelligently: Leadersgip Traits & Characteristics” http://www.ca.uky.edu/agc/pubs/elk1/elk1102/elk1102.pdf


Every business organization has a mandate which is to provide certain service at no loss or be profitable. The activities of a business are led by someone who has the overall responsibility to ensure all objectives are met. These activities and vision of the business is directed by the leader. Henry Ford the founder of the Ford motor company was a great leader he is an epitome of a made leader. “Henry Ford was born July 30, 1863, on a farm in Greenfield Township near Detroit, Michigan” 3 therefore he was born a farmer literally. “His father expected him to eventually take over the family farm, but he despised farm work. He later wrote, “I never had any particular love for the farm-it was the mother on the farm I loved.”4 Henry Ford had a passion for machines and pursued a career in the production of cars. He exhibited the characteristics of a leader such as been innovative, visionary, tenacious, self-belief and many more.

Henry Ford believed in himself tremendously and believed anything was achievable provided the mind can conceive or imagine it. Henry is a persuasive leader he was able to convince Thomas Edison, investors/partners and Ford motor company staffs at various times on his vision to produce cars that an average American can buy. Henry kept on pushing the limits and achieved success selling millions of cars and revolutionized the American car industry making it affordable to average Americans.

Henry developed leadership skills to achieve the mass production through the process of having an assembly line motivating and leading the factory workers to support him to achieve his goals. Talents and experts were drawn from all over the US because they were attracted to the high pay Henry was paying to his workers diverging from the countries wage bracket Henry valued his workers and to keep them happy he increased their salary to a 100% increase to the average salary at the time. There were other competitive edge henry deployed to lower the cost of the automobile such as buying the supply chain from the mines to the material needed in production, he also partnered with Thomas Edison and other strategic partners that influence his production cost. However the workers on the assembly line reduced the cost drastically and delivered mass production capacity.

Henry’s vision to manufacture automobile can be linked to his curiosity of opening his toys as a boy and repairing watches as a young man all this experience developed and prepared him for the leadership and revolution of the automobile industry. It is evidently clear that Henry was not born a leader but was made through a development process through self-will and the environment that shaped his leadership characteristics.

3. http://www.biography.com/people/henry-ford-9298747

4. The Lincoln Library “Shapers of Society” http://www.thelincolnlibrary.com/images/FordPreview.pdf

The great Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela is another ideal epitome of a leader that was made. Madiba (his native name), became the first black president of South Africa in 1994 at the age of 86 years old and after spending 27 years in prison. This great leader liberated South Africa from an environment of violent prejudice and united the white and black people. He had a vision and the tenacity to follow through to become the president of the liberated South Africa. To achieve these successes as a leader, Nelson Mandela exhibited leadership characters that were formed and developed over a period of time and influenced by his environment and other external factors. Madiba grew up in a village and reared cattle as a boy but his vision of right of equal opportunity drove him.

“He overthrew apartheid and created a nonracial democratic South Africa by knowing precisely when and how to transition between his roles as warrior, martyr, diplomat and statesman. Uncomfortable with abstract philosophical concepts, he would often say that an issue “was not a question of principle; it was a question of tactics.” He is a master tactician”5. Leaders are tactical and strategist they know when, how and what move to take at every time to achieve their goals. This art or science is a culmination of several leadership skills including persuasion, negotiation and most importantly executing them flawlessly using the right resources. Especially finding the right people resources for an assignment, motivating them, leading by example and managing them effectively. As a leader Nelson Mandela knew when to lead from the back or lead from the front always ensuring the people follow his leadership willingly.

According to Mandela “Quitting is leading too Knowing how to abandon a failed idea, task or relationship is often the most difficult kind of decision a leader has to make. In many ways, Mandela’s greatest legacy as President of South Africa is the way he chose to leave it. When he was elected in 1994, Mandela probably could have pressed to be President for life – and there were many who felt that in return for his years in prison, that was the least South Africa could do. In the history of Africa, there have been only a handful of democratically elected leaders who willingly stood down from office. Mandela was determined to set a precedent for all who followed him – not only in South Africa but across the rest of the continent. “His job was to set the course not to steer the ship.” He knows that leaders lead as much by what they choose not to do as what they do.”6 All these shows character, ability and skills that have been developed over time and making certain decisions to be responsible not only for one’s self but for other people in once community or environment.

5. Richard Stengel “Mandela: His 8 lessons of leadership” http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1821659-1,00.html

6. Richard Stengel “Mandela: His 8 lessons of leadership” http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1821659-1,00.html

In conclusion, looking at the process of leadership evolution of the afore mentioned great business leader Henry Ford and great political leader Nelson Mandela it shows clearly that leaders are made and not born. It is evident that leaders who influence the society and workplace aren’t born into particular families, have a particular pedigree or possess particular traits. The great leaders who have initiated and achieved great changes across the world are rarely because of their birth premise. Leaders are the ones who have the self-will to decide to lead in situations that are challenging taking up responsibility and accountability. According to Bernard Bass “leadership is primarily a function of the situation, and that anyone could be a leader in the right conditions”7 this leaders emerge and developed themselves to be great through been focus and excellent. To be a leader is a decision and determination to lead a cause that one strongly believes in.

The notion that leadership skills were inherited through genes or something that is from family or legacy seem to be mixed with the environmental influence that certain great families or legacies have on certain leaders that are born in that family or environment. Such leaders that happen to grow up and develop in this environment also go through the iteration of developing the fundamental characteristics that makes them become great leaders. However because of the environmental influence and family or community precedence such leaders are acclaimed to be born rather than made.

Most of the time leadership roles don’t require extraordinary mental or physical capabilities in fact leaders have been found out to be similar to other people in terms of their skills, intelligence and other. It has been found out that the self-will decision to take on the responsibility to lead and achieve. I will say in clear terms that leaders are made and shaped through their decision, they are hardly exceptional but they are always bold when faced with defining moments of leadership.

Reexamining Henry Ford he didn’t inherit leadership or born with it but “He not only revolutionized industrial production, but also had such influence over the 20th century economy and society that his combination of mass production, high wages and low prices”8 .His father didn’t even have confidence in him because he did not show interest in the farm, Henry did not possess anything or pedigree that would consider him born a leader. Henry is evidently “one of the greatest leaders the corporate world has seen, ushering in a new age of industrialization and urbanization, due largely to his unprecedented influence in the automobile industry.”9 Taking a quick snapshot at Nelson Mandela’s visionary mindset Cyril Ramaphosa Leader of National Union of Mineworkers said “He was thinking way ahead of us. He has posterity in mind: How will they view what we’ve done?” Prison gave him the ability to take the long view. It had to; there was no other view possible. He was thinking in terms of not days and weeks but decades. He knew history was on his side, that the result was inevitable; it was just a question of how soon and how it would be achieved. “Things will be better in the long run,” he sometimes said. He always played for the long run”10. It shows how leaders envision challenges with optimism and courage; it is obvious Nelson Mandela’s experience in prison developed him and made better his leadership skills.

In the 21st century there are great leaders emerging and many more are required in every areas of our life be it government, non-profit, business, religion and even family. This argument takes a strong position and has made it clear without relevant examples and discussions that are made and not born. The fundamental characteristics and traits of leaders can be developed and individuals should rise to leadership roles by taking a decision to take on this responsibility and divest from the idea that leaders are born and wake up to the bright reality that leaders are made.

7. Sangeeth Varghese “Are leaders really born?” http://www.forbes.com/2007/11/29/leaders-born-fordism-lead-ceo-cx_sv_1129varghese.html

8. Sangeeth Varghese “Are leaders really born?” http://www.forbes.com/2007/11/29/leaders-born-fordism-lead-ceo-cx_sv_1129varghese.html

9. Sangeeth Varghese “Are leaders really born?” http://www.forbes.com/2007/11/29/leaders-born-fordism-lead-ceo-cx_sv_1129varghese.html

10. Richard Stengel “Mandela: His 8 lessons of leadership” http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1821659-1,00.html

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