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Definitions of Leadership and Are Leaders Born Or Made

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Leadership has caused much controversy throughout history, the main reason being the ongoing debate about what truly makes a leader. This debate has two main schools of thought both with a unique but opposing belief on leadership. One side of the spectrum believes that leadership is a quality not everyone is born with and only certain individuals obtain the natural talent that goes with being a great effective leader. Opposed to that belief is a school of thought who emphasize leadership as a skill that one can learn and develop, this side of the spectrum believe that great effective leaders are made through knowledge and develop through experience. This dispute has created a division of belief amongst the people, so the question is are leaders born or made?

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According to Crainer, there are over 400 variations of definitions of Leadership, resulting in subjective interpretations. Leadership has many ways to be evaluated and observed in order to discover its true meaning. Broad terms such as ‘getting others to follow’ maybe one interpretation, others can be more specific like ‘the use of authority in decision making’. It can be expressed as ‘an attribute of position due to knowledge and personal wisdom. Leadership can either be understood as a personality function or behavioral category. The oxford dictionary 2019 states a definition of leadership as ‘the action of leading a group of people or an organization’ This leads on to assessing whether these skills are embedded in a person naturally or developed over time through knowledge and experience.

This school of thought had the idea that great leaders were born with the qualities already naturally embedded into their personality. ‘The great man theory’ has the belief that great leaders are born with certain characteristics that enables them to rise and lead when the need for them is great. The idea of the great man theory was put forward by an historian called Thomas Carlyle, who believed that distinguished leaders throughout history were born to lead and that world history was nothing more than ‘a collection of biographies belonging to great men’ . Examples of leaders such as ‘Mahatma Gandhi’ and ‘Abraham Lincoln’ back up his theory as he believes they were born with the natural talent of leadership and were destined to achieve greatness. It’s understood that leaders like Lincoln and Gandhi were unique in their own right but neither was trained in leadership or was ever taught leadership qualities. This backs up his theory of ‘Leaders are born’ as there was no apparent evidence of either of these leaders receiving any knowledge on leadership but both went on to become effective leaders.Carlyle argued that not everybody enters this world possessing the same traits and abilities, ‘The very best leaders obtain distinctive qualities which makes them stand out from the ordinary and the capabilities they have enable them to captivate followers.’ Although the great man theory gives a detailed opinion on why leaders can only be born, it is apparent that it’s merely a perception. There doesn’t seem to be any scientific studies or case studies that back up this viewpoint, the idea of characteristics being passed down through genetics just doesn’t sound plausible.

Similar to the ‘great man theory’ the traits approach has the belief that ‘natural leadership’ is what makes a true leader, it determined that effective leaders all possess natural talents such as self-confidence, initiative, intelligence and self-belief. ‘In 1955 Drucker stated “leadership cannot be created or promoted. It cannot be taught or learned”. This statement was based on studies regarding common traits of leadership between 1904 and 1970 where it was concluded that personality is an Important factor in successful leadership. This assumes that leaders obtain certain inherited characteristics and personality traits that separates them from their followers. 

This school of thought believe that leadership Is a quality that people learn to possess, to become a leader one must learn, grow and develop a range of characteristics.  

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