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The question of “are leaders born or made?” is commonly discussed, researched, and theorized. There are examples of both natural born leaders and molded leaders in the workplace today and throughout history. Natural born leaders exist but it is arguable that most leaders have been created and developed over time. Leadership theories and behaviors are not inherent but rather taught through on the job training and via life experiences. Great leaders through history are viewed that way due to the situations they have been put into and how they have been able to successfully overcome them and are remembered as fondly because of that. Leaders often have certain traits or styles in common but there is no one trait or style that a leader must possess or exemplify in order to be effective. In conclusion, it is clear a potent leader may be created and molded with experience and training.
Creating a Leader
Natural born leaders exist but it is arguable that leaders can also be created and developed over time. Leaders can grow their leadership skills with experience, training, and life-lessons in the workplace and out of it. Despite not being born as a leader, many people are able to grow into the role of a leader and excel in that position. Leadership has been studied for a long time and because of that, there are several different theories and definitions of the word itself. Of all the definitions, one common thread is that “leadership is an active process of one person exerting influence over one or more other persons toward a common goal or objective” (OER 1.1). Anyone is capable of exerting influence over others, but it may just take extra work for some to be able to do so.
Leadership has long been studied and examined to find what makes a good leader and why. In leadership examinations, there are three approaches that are most often discussed: traits, style, and skills (Module 1). The trait approach to leadership asks if leaders are born and generally believes that natural born leaders possess five main traits which are intelligence, confidence, determination, integrity, and sociability (Module 1). The style approach asks if leadership is a result of behavior and focuses on how leaders act around others, themselves, and in groups (Module 1). Lastly, the skills approach asks if leaders can be created or molded over time and focuses on three main skills: technical, human and conceptual (Module 1). The skills approach to leadership looks explain why it is possible to develop into a better leader over time.
There are several theories that have developed as additional research has been conducted as to what makes a leader. Two of these theories are the contingency and the situational leadership theories and both are good examples of how leaders can be made. Both theories examine tasks and behaviors that are required of functional leaders. The contingency theory states that a leader needs to have an idea of possible incidents that may happen in the workplace and have ‘contingency’ plans for those incidents (OER 1.3). This is a timely theory as it takes the business setting into account and it allows for different actions to be made but still reach the same conclusion depending on the situation (OER 1.3). The situational leadership approach focuses on the “quality of relationships, tasks, and activities to be performed, perceptions of the leader based on history, the motivation of both the leader and the follower, and personal characteristics” (OER 1.1). From training and on the job experiences, it is possible to learn how to react in accordance with both the contingency theory and situational theory. Both theories also emphasize the importance of the followers’ opinion towards the leader and show that by involving them, when applicable, can improve the decision-making processes for the workplace (OER 1.1).
There are two broad leadership categories that leader’s behavior are sorted into. Task-oriented behavior is the first category and it involves subordinates and the roles and tasks that are given to them to ensure the goals are met for the company (OER 2.2). The other is people-oriented leader behavior which includes showing compassion and care towards employees (OER 2.2). It is important for a leader to be able to exemplify both behaviors. People-oriented behaviors tend to make subordinates happier and feel more satisfied while task-oriented behavior leaders to higher output in the workplace (OER 2.2).
When discussing leaders and what makes a great one, it is easy to look at the past and pinpoint several of the most effective leaders in history. Some of the most famous and successful leaders are Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, Nelson Mandela, and Queen Elizabeth II. A major link between these successful leaders is that they have been put into situations, whether it be apartheid, wars, or being a young woman in power, and been able to overcome these hurdles and gain respect and admiration from the masses. Research also shows that most leaders have some personality traits and leadership styles in common.
Personality Traits in Leaders
There are different types of leaders and many different personality types that make for a good leader. It is nearly universally acknowledged that there are a couple of personality traits that make for a great leader. These traits are called the “Big Five” and they are openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism (OER 2.1). These five traits are not all required by a good leader but having several of them have been linked to being a better or more successful leader (OER 2.1). For instance, just because someone is introverted does not mean that being an effective leader is out of the question. Jim Buckmaster is the CEO of Craigslist and he is so introverted that he does not even like to hold meetings, but he is still revered as a successful leader and runs a thriving website (OER 2.1).
Outside of the “Big Five” there are other traits that are also acknowledged as being commonly noticed in successful leaders. Self-esteem is considered very important in effective leaders as “leaders with high self-esteem support their subordinates more and, when punishment is administered, they punish more effectively (OER 2.1). Self-esteem can be improved over time and is not necessarily an innate trait that all people have. Another trait that leaders frequently possess is integrity because most will possess a moral compass and make decisions while still considering others (OER 2.1). When a person’s integrity is challenged, it can also hurt a company as apparent when the CEO of Whole Foods, John Mackey, was caught secretly making negative comments towards a rival company online (OER 2.1).
There are four main leadership styles that all fall under the Path-Goal Theory of Leadership: directive, supportive, participative, and achievement-orientated styles (OER 2.3). Each of these four main styles can be successful dependent on the subordinates and the environment (OER 2.3). Directive style leaders provide clear directions to staff, set schedules, and provide clarity if there are questions about a specific role in the company (OER 2.3). Supportive style leaders treat employees with respect and provide support as needed (OER 2.3). Participative style leaders want subordinates to be involved in decision making in the company and look for their input (OER 2.3). The last style is achievement-oriented where workplace goals are openly encouraged and strived for (OER 2.3). All four of these styles are situational and can be exemplified by a properly molded and trained leader. These four styles would not all be inherent in a ‘natural born leader’.
Leadership is often theorized and discussed because a good leader is vital to creating a strong workforce and a positive environment for subordinates. Leaders can be created and molded over time through trainings on the job and life experiences. There are certain things that come natural to some leaders, such as certain personality traits and behaviors, but there are not specific traits that are required by all leaders or in all leadership fields. Anyone can be a successful and effective leader with a will to learn how and a drive to lead and influence others.
- Module 1, Leadership primer, University of Maryland University College, MGMT 615-9044, Intercultural Communication and Leadership, Spring, 2019
- OER 1.1, Leadership, International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, Vol. 4, 2nd ed. Gale Virtual Reference Library 2008, p. 377-384
- OER 1.3, Haynes, T. (2007). Management/leadership styles, Encyclopedia of Business and Finance, Vol. 2. 2nd ed., Gale Virtual Reference Library, p477-482
- OER 2.1, Who is a leader? Trait approaches to leadership, Saylor.org Academy
- OER 2.2, What do leaders do? Behavioral approaches to leadership, Saylor.org Academy
- OER 2.3, What is the role of the context? Contingency approaches to leadership, Saylor.org Academy
|Topic sentence, aka thesis statement: Leaders are created.
Natural born leaders exist but it is arguable that many leaders are created over time.
|What is your 1st Level 2 Heading?
Leadership – skills (processes) approach, trait approach,
|What is your 2nd Level 2 Heading?
-Personalities traits (none specifically linked, some introverted leaders)
– Leadership styles
|Use other headings as necessary|
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