Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Are Leaders Born or Made?

Written by: on November 21, 2022


Can you imagine Julius Caesar reading a leadership book? What about George Washington, Abraham Lincoln or a more present day U.S. leader Barak Obama? This was an initial question that was posed that really makes you dream.

Eve Pool, author of Leadersmithing has made navigating leadership roles more definitive with several years of research through two parts. Part one is made up of theory based instruction including 4 pathways and 17 critical incidents to master in order to be ready for a board level position.

Poole lists three learning pathways to leadership: 

  1. Leadership Muscle Memory- This is simply training your body to react through immersive training.
  2. Self Regulation- This is the ability in multiple facets to control your reactions. This could be emotional, physical, and even mentally.
  3. Reflective Judgement- This process allows you to utilize your own understanding of others and yourself so that you do no make false judgments in situations.
  4. Learning to Learn- This is the thought that you are never finished learning because not one person knows everything.

My thoughts on critical incidents aka what Poole says leaders need to be able to do: 

  1. Stepping up- The phrase, “the buck stops here” (1) was first made popular by President Harry Truman. Since then it has been used in a variety of ways such as in this book, “The buck stops with you.” (2) Ultimately it doesn’t matter how you rephrase it… it means that you have to take ownership of your position or responsibilities. If I didn’t write this blog today it most definitely would not write itself. Therefore, either the lack of producing the blog or the completion of it would be contingent upon me.
  2. Taking key decisions- This critical incident involves leaders to take their time when making decisions.
  3. Coping with increasing change- Admittedly I had to read this critical incident multiple times to understand what the author was getting at. While I felt like it was a little all over the place ultimately I landed on picking your battles as a leader to make the most change. There are changes that you can make as a whole such as changing up what you are providing to employees for lunch during meetings which would be a small change. Regardless you are in charge of stability and safety of your employees.
  4. Managing ambiguity- I wish I could say that I have mastered this but silence makes me uneasy. Learning to manage ambiguity is learning when to pause and when to act.
  5. Taking a risk- Risks as a whole can be calculated and feel safe, but also can be a complex risky decision.
  6. Accepting when you are wrong- As a mother, I can whole heartedly say that I have mastered this! There is nothing quite as humbling as admitting to a seven year old that you are wrong and they are right.
  7. Key board/ Stakeholder meeting- You are not allowed to fly by the seat of your pants and see how it works out.
  8. Doing the maths- You are not allowed to say that numbers are not your strong suit. If you are in a leadership position you are allowed to educate yourself and become a professional in the craft of math.
  9. Joining the Dots- A well diverse leader will have enough understanding of every facet of their organization so that they can have a handle of what is required at every level.
  10. Motivating & Influencing others- To be respected you have to respect others.
  11. Flexing Style- If you will allow yourself to think outside of the box, you can solve problems in the same manner.
  12. Delegating to and empowering staff-  It doesn’t do your organization much good to continue to do jobs that you are good at if other people can complete that and be good at them to. As a leader it is best to do tasks that are hard for you, so that you can be more adaptive to your needs of your industry.
  13. Dealing with poor performance- It’s really hard as a leader to have hard conversations with people. The reality is that people are messy, and they are going to feel. Whats best is to continue conversations throughout so that when you have final discussions it’s not quite a surprise.
  14. Listening to Staff- The best thing that you can do in a leadership position is to show people that you care about what they have to say, even though it might not be easy to hear. You have to create a safe space for them.
  15. Knowing when to seek help & advice- If you are following the pathway learning to learn at the forefront than you will admit when you do not have the answer and continue to learn when needed.
  16. Giving & taking feedback- As a leader you have to protect yourself when tough feedback comes, and it will. You are to absorb the information and resolve it so that the organization is not harmed. You also have to remember that you give good meaningful feedback.
  17. Work Life Balance – This is by far one of the toughest aspects of being a leader. You cannot continue to work yourself to death as you are not contributing anything to your organization if you do. You need to have space between you and your leadership responsibilities so that when you are in the ring, you can give 110 percent efficiency.

The question, “Are leaders born or made?” (2) needs an additional notation in that this is a standing debate between leaders and scholars. There is truth to both sides of the argument. The great coach Vince Lombardi says that “Leaders aren’t born, they are made. And they are made just like anything else, through hard work.” (3) We have all been around people that seem to be naturally influential, but I wonder if they were as naturally influential as we initially thought? Maybe they just had more time to hone in on the leadersmithing craft that Poole discusses? However, a past research notes that within leadership “30 percent genetic and 70 percent a result of lessons learned through life experiences.” (4) Ultimately in this widely discussed topic you can decide! According to one of our previous books How to Read Numbers a statistic is simply what you make it. (5)


(1) “Buck Passing.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, November 10, 2022. Last modified November 10, 2022.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buck_passing#:~:text=%22The%20buck%20stops%20here%22%20is,ultimate%20responsibility%20for%20those%20decisions.

(2) Poole, Eve. “Chapter 1.” Essay. In Leadersmithing: Revealing the Trade Secrets of Leadership. London: Bloomsbury Business, an imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing Plc, 2017.

(3) “Vince Lombardi the Speech Leadership – Palmerston North Boys’ High School.”  https://www.pnbhs.school.nz/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/VINCE-LOMBARDI-The-Speech-Leadership.pdf.

(4) University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES). “Are leaders born or made? New study shows how leadership develops.” ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/10/141006133228.htm (accessed November 21, 2022).

(5) Chivers, Tom, and David Chivers. How to Read Numbers: A Guide to Statistics in the News (and Knowing When to Trust Them). London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2022.

(6)Irene Asare, Chartered FCIPD. “Are Leaders Born or Made?” LinkedIn. Last modified February 3, 2020. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/leaders-born-made-irene-asare.

About the Author

Alana Hayes

Alana is a mother to four beautiful children and wife to a farmer in Texas. She is an avid world traveler with a heart for both the world and education. She is the president of the nonprofit Against the Grain Texas where they focus on providing education to children overseas and at risk adults in the states. To date the nonprofit has given almost $100,000 to individuals around the world. In her free time she loves spending meaningful time with people and reading to further her personal education.

4 responses to “Are Leaders Born or Made?”

  1. Kristy Newport says:

    Dear A,
    I enjoyed reading your post!
    I have a couple thoughts after reading your post. There are a couple of questions I have but I do not expect you to answer them in detail. Some of these questions might be better talked about over coffee!!
    8) Doing the maths-I would love to be a fly on the wall in your house some days. How you and Ben problem solve with the farm and your non profit…the two of you must put your heads together!!
    4) Managing ambiguity- I am curious what makes silence uneasy for you? Having four kids makes life full of noise at times. Have there been times of quiet that have been refreshing?
    12) Delegating to staff- I know you have an assistant. I am curious how you go about delegating things to this person? I pray you can delegate, delegate, delegate!!
    5) Taking risk- I know that there were some risks in pursuing Fred’s Garage. I would be interested in knowing what one of these risks were and what made you to decide to go forward?

    I am praying the the Lord blesses all your pursuits. Thank you for sending Scripture out today 11/22. I am reading this now and encouraged! Happy Thanksgiving dear friend!

  2. Alana Hayes says:

    8) Doing the maths- One thing that I have learned here is that it doesn’t always have to financially work out on paper. Sometimes you have do to both what Poole told you about taking risks, and what God is telling you to complete. He always provides a way!
    4) Managing ambiguity- I guess that I should clarify that silence in adults makes me uneasy. Silence in children through the lens of their mother is invigorating to me because that means that little mind is processing something incredible. I have learned that allowing them to process out loud or in their head tends to yields great results and I get great satisfaction in watching them explore the world. However, silence in adults is always unnerving because I was raised in a household where that seemed unacceptable. If you didn’t have an immediate response you were being disobedient.
    12) Delegating to staff- I enjoyed reading Pooles book when she talked about not always doing the things as a leader that are easy for you. I very much have had to take this on the hard way this month. Its really easy for me to work on my website for Fred’s Garage or my non-profit, and I also really enjoy doing it. However, I don’t have time to do it. What I learned first hand this month is that by allowing others to try things you are allowing them to shine. Hannah (my assistant) was able to utilize a coding class she had previously taken to completely dismantle a problem that arose before I even knew about it. First of all I was so proud, because the outcome aesthetically looked incredible on the site! Second, I was proud because where before she might have asked me first I have set the boundary that I needed her to problem solve, prior to coming to me.
    5) Taking risk- The two biggest risks to me were financially and also physically taking time away from my kids. Ultimately, I decided to go forward because I am being obedient to the task that God gave me to create a ministry within the at-risk population within my community.

  3. mm Chad McSwain says:

    Hey Alana…great post.
    I’m curious where you land on the “leaders made or born” debate. I once attended a leadership camp as a high school student and the theme was that leaders are made. That was an encouraging idea to me because I did not think of myself as a leader at the time. In fact, when I got back, I told the counselor that selected me that I was surprised I was chosen as I did not see myself as a leader. She replied, “Me neither. You were not the first choice.” One of my great blessings is a chip on my shoulder and I am more motivated when I feel like an underdog!
    I land on “leaders are made” but an 8 on the enneagram probably has an easier time of it, I suppose.

    • Alana Hayes says:

      Chad… goodness! I cannot imagine. What a great reminder that words matter.

      I believe both that leaders are made through experiences as well as born with God’s intention of our life. God is such a detail oriented guy, that while we may not see ourselves as a leader in high school, he was molding you to exactly who he wanted you to be and serve his kingdom well. Proud to know you friend.

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