Leaders, born or made?

Guest blogger:

Steve GortonSteve Gorton, OUBS MBA Alumnus and Executive Coach, Enabling Development.


“It’s an age old question: Are leaders born or made? If they are made, can we return them under warranty?” (Scott Adams, The Dilbert Principle)

And if they are made, how do we keep them in top condition?

It is important to recognise that leaders operate at many levels in organisations, not just in the top team. Here are some questions for consideration and reflection on your own style as a leader:

  • If leadership is so important, why are effective business leaders so rare?
  • Who can you identify as a truly effective leader in your own experience?
  • Why do people so often separate the act of leadership from the leader?
  • Is leadership as something people do rather than who they are?
  • Are we now experiencing a greater culture of managerialism than leadership across organisations and politics?
  • As business and society moves from the machine age through the information age towards the biological age, how fit for purpose are the traditional methods of “leadership” through position power and command and control? (Think dictatorship in business and government)
  • Can we become a leader through academic study or is it a “contact sport”?
  • Is a more holistic and balanced approach the way forward?

Leaders graphicInspirational Leaders understand who they are, tend to have a more powerful voice and make a more profound contribution to an organisation.  My own script has two versions:

Academic – Leaders lead by virtue of who they are.  If leaders want to be more effective with others they first need to be more effective with themselves.

Real life – Until you get your own act together, how can you help anyone else get their act together?!

So, what are some key qualities of an inspirational leader? And how do you score against them?

1.   Authenticity – Truly authentic leaders are aware of their attributes and shortcomings (human beings rather than human doings).  Authentic leadership comes from either of two places – persona or character.

  • Persona is the mask we create to protect ourselves from external stresses and internal fears (might be qualifications, expertise, position).
  • Character is who we are.  It goes way beyond what we do.
  • It is critical to recognise the cues that signal when you are in character or when you rely on a persona.
  • When do you overreact?
  • Under what circumstances do you generally get stuck?
  • When does everything run smoothly and flow?

2.   Self Expression – How often have you held back from saying something you felt was really important because you were worried about how you would express yourself? Have you feigned modesty about something you are really proud about? Authentic expression goes beyond telling the truth. It demonstrates a total congruence between who you are and what you do and say.

3.   Value Creation – Leaders create value through relationships.  Many leaders still have the illusion that they are the ones that really make things happen. Understanding that you do not have all the answers is a major part of building good relationships, having influence and getting results.

4.   Purpose, Vision and Values – Leaders inspire their colleagues through making it crystal clear:

  • why the organisation exists (its purpose)
  • where we want to get to at a point in time (a compelling vision of the future)
  • what is important (values).

They communicate, communicate and communicate the purpose, the vision and the values that will have been derived from inclusive consultation and be shared by stakeholders (see Kotter, Leading Change).

So what?  Because it helps to answer the most important question for you as a leader: Why should anyone be led by you?

Steve Gorton, is an OUBS Alumnus and Associate Lecturer.  After his MBA he founded Enabling Development working primarily as an executive coach to help people start thinking again, bake a bigger cake and make that change from management to an inspirational leader.

You can view a video version of this blog here.