Are Leaders Born or Created?

Recently on our Facebook page, the much debated question of whether or not leaders are born or can be created was asked.  I shared an answer there but would like to address this question in a certain way and in more detail in this column.

As we sit with top leaders from top brands and companies both locally and internationally, we have the rare opportunity to uncover what has made these individuals exceptional at what they do.  We explore the answer to the question:  Why them and not someone else?

While each of these leaders is called to guide organizations in very different industries and markets, we have come to understand that the profession of “Leadership” is supported by and relies upon a foundation of universal behaviours, practices, and principles that can be shared and learned.

It is these universal behaviours, practices and principles that we seek to uncover and which we strive to share with you every week in this column.

As a reminder of some of these, let’s recap what several of these leaders have shared with us:

Greg Solomon, the Managing Director of McDonalds SA, believes that the level of power (influence) you have is directly related to the level of trust and respect that those you lead have for you.  In fact, he believes this so strongly that he uses an equation as part of his decision making process as he selects those he wants to work with:  Trust X Respect = Power or Influence.  He gives trust he has in or for that individual a value out of ten and multiplies it with a similar value out of ten for the amount of respect he has for the person.  This gives him a percentage figure which reflects the level of power or influence this potential leader possess and that Solomon then uses.

This practice alone could be analyzed and unpacked in many different ways, but the bottom line questions we can ask ourselves as leaders are:  Am I trustworthy?  Do those I lead respect me as a result?

Brian Molefe, CEO of the parastatal Transnet, shared with us that leaders are the glue of any organization.  He stated that if your organization’s leaders are able to effectively communicate your organization’s vision and the value impact of that vision on both the consumer and employee, they will have won half the battle.

Having a military background, he concluded that part of our discussion with this statement:  “The leader’s role ends when the mêlée begins” – in line with the principle he shared, we agree.

Nomaxibiso Majokweni, CEO of BUSA, shared that leaders need to see the big picture and how something seemingly small can impact this picture.  She emphasized that the big things should never be sacrificed for the small, and that leaders need the emotional and mental maturity to analyze any initiative objectively.

Shameel Joosub, CEO of Vodacom, says his approach to leadership is: “First and foremost we are a team!”  But how does a leader of an organization, large or small, stay involved and be a team player?  He says it is to ask real questions, to probe, to engage, and to be constantly walking around, but not to micromanage.

“I never sit at my desk,” he concludes.

Also in the telecommunications industry, Zunaid Bulbulia, the new CEO of MTN SA, shared with us just last week that he has a passion for clarity – both providing it and seeking after it.  He feels that we can act with complete confidence when we have explored all the angles and details of what it is we are facing.

Ambiguity and fog create, at the very least, a feeling of chaos and disorder, and one cannot lead effectively if followers feel there is chaos and disorder.

And the final addition to this recap comes from the leader and CEO of AngloAmerican, Mark Cutifani.  He shared that after years of leading he has come to this one major conclusion:  “Leadership is all about people.”

These principles or behaviours supply the foundation or starting point for any leadership interaction these leaders may be called upon to engage.  And I put to you today that it is the confidence that each of these leaders has in their individual leadership foundations that has determined their leadership growth and trajectory, or in other words, has determined whether or not they are leaders.

So here is a telling question for each of us:  What behaviours, practices, and principles does my leadership foundation consist of?  Perhaps we need to ask ourselves whether or not we even have a foundation to begin with?

The question of whether or not a leader is born or can be created is complex and multifaceted.

As many approaches to and definitions of leadership as there are, there are equally as many views on this question.

In part, our answer to this question lies in our understanding of the following:

“When we manage situations based on previous experience and usage of authority and power, we are in ‘management’ mode.  All good leaders need to be good managers as well.  Management confidence is based on trust in structures that work.

“Leadership kicks in when we ‘don’t know the answer’.  By this we mean that as soon as a perceived obstacle, problem, resistance, contention, or challenge arrives on the scene, this is when good leadership kicks in.

Leadership confidence is based primarily in processes that work.  In practice the leadership instinct does not baulk at perceived obstacles, but focuses on processes that invariably arrive at answers.”

~Louis Groenewald, Co-Founder Leadership Platform

My answer to the individual that asked the question on Facebook was that development as a leader is directly related to how one interacts and responds to situations and challenges he or she encounters.  While there are those that are born that seem to have the innate and instinctive skills to deal with unknowns, and we regard these as ‘born leaders’; if we put these leaders under the Leadership Platform microscope what we actually encounter is a confidence (whether consciously or sub-consciously incubated) in processes they apply.

Part of this article was sharing the behaviours, practices, and or principles many top leaders have shared that they apply when they encounter a leadership challenge or situation.

The key question is:  Can you learn what these leaders have learned?  If your answer to this question is yes, then your answer to the question of whether or not a leader can be created must be yes.  If your answer is no, then your feeling must be that leaders are born.

Parties on both sides of this debate feel that they are right and give supporting evidence to prove this, so whatever your answer, it seems – for the time being anyway – that you are right as well.

This article was featured in the





Founder of Future CEOs™ and co-host of the Future CEOs™ show on, Gareth seeks to empower high potential young executives and ambitious entrepreneurs as they push for CEO status.

Call: +27 (0)12 653 3022

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Leadership Platform is a specialist leadership development consultancy, focusing on creating measurable impact to the bottom line through the enhancement of leadership understanding and engagement.


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