Leaders – born or created?

This is a question that has been bantered around for many years.   In a time when we are desperate for leadership – be it in corporations, sport or government – it seems very appropriate to seek out, cultivate and grab leaders when they present themselves.

I was very fortunate to recently sit with Dr Veronica Burke, Programmes Director for Cranfield School of Management and I took the opportunity to ask her if leaders or born or created.  Her response, while obvious, was refreshingly surprising.

Dr Burke told me that really what it comes down to is desire.  Many people have the aptitude, skill and charisma but lack the unwavering desire or determination to become a leader.  Others seem to hold leadership roles but don’t have the determination to become a leader.

I spent the next few days really thinking about those in my surroundings who are in leadership roles and those who simply shine as leaders regardless of their position within the company.  After reflecting on Dr Burke’s comments, reminiscing about the great leaders in my life and reviewing those around me I found more often than not desire, an amazing work ethic and an undeterred commitment were at the heart of many leaders.

I also found those with the raw characteristics grew into better leaders as their confidence in themselves grew. If potential leaders take a risk and it pays off they are more likely to do more of the same, which builds confidence and perpetuates that behaviour.  So, when the knock back comes (and it always does) those who have had a good record to-date are more able to brush it off as a learning point.  Conversely, if budding leaders are squashed or make a bad judgement call early in their leadership trail, they may take a long time to build-up their confidence again, or worse never get it back.

Many people speak of the x-factor when they talk about leaders like it is some unquantifiable thing… I think it is not one thing but a combination.  These are what I believe are the basics required:

  • Integrity
  • Strength of character
  • Grit and determination
  • Self-confidence and belief
  • Aptitude for the job at hand
  • Excellent communication skills
  • A sense of humour
  • And a sense of humility
  • Good old-fashioned hard work


I do believe that desire, hard work and self-belief are key factors in Leaders.

In the words of Henry Ford, ‘Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t — either way you’re right.’

As always, open to comments…

By Debra Ward

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