Born a Leader or Made a Leader?

Are leaders born or made?

I’m Going Pro

I am fit, lift weights, run, played sports in college, etc… but no matter how hard I try I could never, ever, not possibly make it in pro sports. As they say I “just don’t have it.”

Conversely, every member of a pro sports team, while naturally gifted beyond what us mere mortals could ever hope for, did not just show up to the field one day and get drafted. They spent a thousands of hours drilling, playing, working out, being coached, thinking about their sport, talking about their sport, watching their sport, etc… Yes they are genetic freaks but it was not a mere accident of nature that they made it to the pros.

Success Equation

So the point of “being born a leader”. Our natural talent as a leader is not the final determinate of what kind of leader we will be. It is a multiplier…a factor in a much larger equation. The equation is something like [Talent x Effort x Time x Environment x Humility x Team x Luck]. If you rely on any one or two of these you are never going to make it. However some of these are more valuable than others and my personal experience points to talent carrying a disproportionately smaller weight than the others.

I think the stereotype of the brilliant Stanford graduate entrepreneur way overblown. I have spent way too much time reading about successful entrepreneurs – probably should have spent more time actually doing. One of the most common factors is they were not the smartest person in their class. Very often they were C students struggling to get through. Despite (or perhaps because) of their struggles they understood things weren’t going to just be given to them; instead they would have to earn them.

Attitude over Talent

My personal experience: I will never be CEO of a major multi-national. I am lacking the natural talent, luck, and certainly some of the dedication required to get there. However, I can sure lead my current team like nobody’s business and that ability did not happen accidentally. I was not born a leader (heh, my little brother got all the charisma and talent; I got the leftovers) but I compensate with work ethic and study. I work like a maniac all day, and every night I go home and ask myself how I did, evaluate where I messed up, read books, listen to podcasts, take classes, etc…

This does not make me special somehow…I am not unique in these attitudes. So many really successful people got there through years of dogged hard work, tenacity, and the humility to admit when they didn’t know something. Some of them may have had limited talent but ultimately won through effort. One of the most successful businessmen I know, a multi-millionaire, was kicked out of college and spent years working two jobs so that he could suddenly became an overnight success.

I’ll take effort over talent any day of the week. The attitude of “I don’t have the talent and thus can’t make it” is incredibly dangerous. It makes you a victim and victims will not succeed at anything. Excuses are THE limiting factor in a person’s growth. Dude, step up, turn off the tv, take ownership, and win.

  • Miles Malachowski

    Great post. I have had the good fortune of working for some great leaders as well as some that were erroneously placed in a leadership position, but lacked the skills to drive a team. Focusing on the great leaders, each has their own “style”. In my opinion, good leadership does share many similar traits as it relates to work ethic, but it also has the nature of being unique to an individual. Gleaning the positive traits from each good leader will help shape an individual into THEIR unique leadership style as opposed to trying to “be like someone else”. The word “humility” is used multiple times in the post, which is key to being open to learn from everyone. Being a life long student, as you mention in the post, will keep someone growing every day!