Are leaders born or made?


In response to a recent NPR story about President Barack Obama’s attempts to re-establish his role as a leader, Shayan Ahmad and Andy Yang debate the common controversy of nature vs. nurture.

“Leaders are born.” – Shayan Ahmad

It is a widely accepted fact that potential physical ability is a trait decided at birth. Although effort and time committed are undoubtedly also factors, even if we all tried as hard as we could, the vast majority of us still wouldn’t be at the same level as world-class athletes.

Yet the idea of personality traits being decided in a comparable fashion is impossible to comprehend for many. Perhaps it is in fear of the idea that we are not truly in control of our own identities, but I think we can all agree that almost none of us are fit to lead large groups of people with ease. What sets the masses apart from those who can do so is a sort of charisma and trusting manner which only a select few have.

David Aaker, a business professor at the University of California-Berkeley, is an advocate that such traits come at birth or do not come at all. He wrote in the Harvard Business Review Network that he believes CEOs are born, not made. As he said, “There are many with the talent and judgment to be successful CEOs that never get the opportunity to learn, to have the right experience, or to prove themselves. But, in my view, those that lack those qualities will not be successful no matter what background, training, experience, or mentoring they might have.”

Admittedly, it is impossible to claim that nature alone decides all of the factors. Environmental influences do have their sway over what makes a leader, but many people, no matter how much effort they exert, will never be able to be true leaders.

The most frequent error about this belief, however, is not about its validity but rather that the thought that it is one of negativity. To create a cohesive unit there needs to be more than just leaders.

So even if many people aren’t meant to be leaders, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. We each must find our own trait which we have been blessed with to hone, and use that to our best ability, whether it is as a leader or any other equally important part of society.


“Leaders are made.”- Andy Yang

There is no leadership gene that people are born with. Instead, the position of leader is one that people grow into. Take the important quality of charisma, for example. Today’s leaders are not necessarily the ones with the loudest voices or the most resource; rather, they are the ones able to work with people and draw from the talents of others. The days of Andrew Jackson are over. Being able to lead requires working with people rather than in spite of them, and this requires learning to build relationships.

Joseph Nye, distinguished service professor at Harvard University, said, “Modern leadership turns out to be less about who you are or how you were born than about what you have learned and what you do as part of a group.” Those without charisma aren’t necessarily designated to be followers forever because the qualities of a good leader can be gained through experience. Even those who are proclaimed to possess the natural talent of leading still require experience to move beyond their mere inherent abilities and become leaders who not only possess natural talent, but the knowledge to make them effective.

One of the most important events in the business world is the resignation and death of Apple CEO Steve Jobs. Although one of the most prominent leaders of the modern era, he was previously ousted by Apple’s Board of Directors in 1985 due to corporate politics. However, Jobs later said “I didn’t see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me.” Being fired allowed him to explore and experiment, finally becoming the leader that he needed to be. When he returned in 1996, he was ready to transform Apple into the giant that it is today.

Experience plays such a vital role there are no good leaders without it. With this in mind, it’s time for us students to step outside our comfort zones into a leadership position. We need to begin involving ourselves whenever and wherever possible to set an example for other people and even other schools to follow. Only then, can we become the leaders of tomorrow that society needs us to be.