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  • Writer's pictureRoo Davies

Are Leaders Born or Made?

This question is always a hot topic and an interesting one to explore but the answer is pretty clear cut. There is plenty of research by psychologists that leaders are 'mostly made’ with best estimates being that leadership is about one-third born and two-thirds made.*

This blog looks at traits of great leaders and how leadership can be nurtured.


The good news... leadership skills can be developed through a rich combination of experiences, training, and coaching.

Great leaders can shape the direction of travel for an organisation or a team. They understand how to motivate and effectively steer a group of people. This all requires a range of skills.

Fairy tale thinking

Relying on finding “natural leaders” who have the magic touch and expecting that their strengths and talents will automatically result in organisational success, is a fairy tale.

Whilst the evidence supports that leaders are mostly made; some leaders argue the opposite - that leaders are generally born. The reason for this? Could it possibly be the perfect excuse to neglect leadership development; focussing less on developing themselves and the people they lead?

Great leadership traits

1. Interpersonal Communication

How leaders interact and communicate with people is probably the most critical (and noticeable) trait. This skill set spans verbal and non-verbal signals and is much more than just the words used. It’s also about listening, tone, body language, hand gestures, eye contact and facial expressions.

Being able to really listen is a specific skill – it even has a special name ‘active listening’. Being careful and deliberate when listening to others helps people feel heard and helps information be retained. Another benefit is that it’s proven to help establish rapport and trust.

2. Motivation

Leaders need to encourage, empower, motivate, inspire, and instil trust to keep morale high, essential for individual and team engagement, performance, and wellbeing.

As well as having a positive perspective and leading by example, it’s important for leaders to really get to know what makes their people tick and be invested in helping them achieve their goals.

3. Decisiveness

To lead inherently means making decisions. Whether large or small, being a confident and active decision maker means you will be responsive and effective, a huge factor in nurturing trust and confidence with the team wider stakeholders.

There are two sides of the coin when developing this skill; practically being able to act quickly, gather relevant information and evaluate options and their potential outcomes alongside tapping into your instinct and drawing on your experience as a compass.

Points to remember

  • Leaders are made through developing a range of specific skills whilst harnessing experiences and embracing coaching & mentoring.

  • It's a dangerous fairy tale to rely on “natural leaders” and expect that their strengths and talents will automatically result in organisational success.

* Studies using identical twins. Arvey, R. D., Rotundo, M., Johnson, W., Zhang, Z., & McGue, M. (2006). The determinants of leadership role occupancy: Genetic and personality factors. Leadership Quarterly, 17, 1-20.

Arvey, R. D., Zhang, Z., Avolio, B. J., & Kreuger, R.F. (2007). Developmental and genetic
determinants of leadership role occupancy among women. Journal of Applied Psychology, 92, 693-706.


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