Born to lead? – Myth and Reality

In this article, I explore whether there really is such a thing as a “born leader”, or whether leadership skills can be developed through learning and development.

Is it really the cradle that decides who the future leader will be, or are leadership skills skills that anyone can learn?

Last week, I had the opportunity to meet a small group of managers, to talk about personality types. There was also the question of whether those of us who were there were born to lead, or whether it just happened that way.

Was it predetermined in our childhood that we were good at this, or at least that we could function effectively?

All participants immediately said that they could not imagine their current life any other way. Of course, most of us started at the bottom of the ladder, but we are in a good place now. Then there was a very sympathetic businesswoman who had a completely different opinion. His story is that he never planned to lead a team, he never had any particular need to assign tasks, to lead a team – it’s just the way he was brought up, it was his job, he learned it, and here he is. You’re doing well.

I was thinking on the way home. I know many people who started out in less than ideal financial circumstances and have become successful entrepreneurs. Some became excellent professionals and became leaders, others were very good at building relationships and had a great brain (even if you don’t have a specialisation, you simply see good business opportunities and are an excellent organiser).

And then there were the children whose parents were entrepreneurs, and they tried to steer them into this career, but they didn’t succeed. In practice, they were not integrated at all into the system they grew up in. They did not have the attitude, the determination, the confidence that is needed (even if we are talking about a hereditary empire).

But it’s not just me – for centuries, it’s been on the minds of social scientists, business gurus and even ordinary people.

But what is the truth? Are leaders really “born” or “made”?

I can see examples of everything, so I’ve dug into the literature.

First, let’s look at what the term “born leader” actually means. According to popular belief, born leaders show their leadership qualities from an early age: they are charismatic, decisive, persistent and able to influence (not exploit (!), influence) their peers. This view is supported by stories of famous leaders who excelled in leadership from a young age.

But isn’t it all just a romantic myth? Modern psychology and leadership science tells us that leadership skills can be largely learned and developed (I work on it myself every day). Leadership is not just a gift, but a complex set of skills that can and should be developed.

For example, social intelligence, which is essential for a good leader, is not necessarily an innate quality. In many cases, this skill is developed throughout life, through various social interactions and experiences. Take my example, I feel just as comfortable alone as I do in company. In fact, sometimes I don’t even feel like going out, but when I’m there, it’s great. In the same way, decision-making, conflict management or empathy are skills that can be developed.

It is also worth noting that leadership roles and styles are varied. A good leader works very differently in one organisation than in another. A start-up, for example, requires different leadership skills than a multinational company with centuries of history, where it makes sense to follow the core values (besides being there to grow you and the company with you).

So, if the question is “must you be born a leader?”, the answer is not a clear yes or no. There are indeed people who have natural charisma and leadership skills. However, leadership skills can be developed and many people become successful leaders through hard work, learning and experience.

It is not necessary to have a professional role model from childhood. (at least, you don’t necessarily need a CEO – a hard-working, persistent and constantly “building” parent is the biggest motivator in my opinion.)

However, I believe that if you are hardworking, persistent and fair, if you are a good professional, you don’t need to be born a leader (if you have one). You can do anything. Some are a little braver than others, some prefer to take on responsibility – because it fuels them, and some love the career and it’s not a burden.

Yet I think that if you don’t have the core, even if you grow up in the middle of an empire, even if you read business books or take these subjects at university… then you’re just not there. It is useless to develop a skill if you don’t have a base.

Yet I would argue that leadership is a multifaceted and complex process, based not just on aptitude but on a combination of learning, experience and personal development. The path to becoming a leader is unique for everyone, and I believe it is within the reach of anyone who is determined to pursue it.

And although I have my weaker moments, when I imagine that it could be different. You could get up from your desk at, say, 4pm (2am on a Friday) and have privacy from then on. In fact, the whole weekend is always exclusively private. You could also take time off before the holidays and not smoke the keyboard on the evening of the 23rd. Yes, you could. Then I remember that for me, it would be too little. As demanding as it is (mentally, physically), if I could start over, I would like to arrive at the same place. And not because this is right and the other is wrong, but because it is right for me. All in all. 😊 I love the challenges, the tasks, the organisation, the thinking, the maths, the strategies… with all the druk and responsibility that comes with it. Not to mention the valuable people who surround me and from whom I can learn every day.

So, there is no clear answer to the question, I have no solution. Perhaps, it depends on the attitude. Everything else is a combination of hard work and luck.

It doesn’t hurt, though, that when you’re a kid, it’s the lexicon that falls on your head, not the brandy bottle. 😉

Aletta Nagy-Kozma