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Are Leaders Born or Made?

Are Leaders Born or Made?

In this article, we will briefly look at the overall general thinking about leadership that has occurred over the last 100 years or so. Although the contributors to this thinking have been many, for the purposes of this brief review, there are nine theories we will consider in summary.

Eight of the nine theories, excluding Situational Leadership® (shown in the diagram below) can be seen to fall into three broad realms or categories (all of which have become quite strong “schools” of leadership thought with many advocates for the overall theory in each case).

These 3 leadership thinking realms or categories (and their main advocates) are:

  1. Inner Type, Temperament and Traits
  2. Patterns of Learned Behavior
  3. Culture/climate



 (Behavioral Skills)




(Values, Principles)

Tannenbaum / Schmidt


McGregor Style / Approach


Hersey / Blanchard



(Climate for Action)

Blake and Mouton


Let’s look at each of these categories in turn.

1. Inner Type and Temperament Leadership Thinking

Those people who advocate that inner traits significantly govern the way that leaders act and behave tend to hold the view that leaders are typically more born than they are made (some people having more of the “right stuff” than others).

Although inner personality models have been around for along time, the work of Carl Jung was highly influential to leadership thinking in the early part of the twentieth century (and since).

Carl Jung

In his highly reflective and extensive psychological work, Jung suggested (originally in the 1920’s), that the four areas of Sensing, Intuition, Thinking and Feeling significantly govern an individual’s behavior (either in an introverted or extraverted way). Jung’s work led others that followed him to conclude that there are four overall temperaments that could be observed in leadership behavior. These four types or temperaments can be described as follows:

The Sensing Judgment Type
The Sensing Perceiving Type
The Intuitive Thinking Type
The Intuitive Feeling Type
Leadership Style:
Traditionalist, stabilizer, consolidator


Has a sense of duty, responsibility, loyalty and industry
Trouble-shooter, negotiator, fire-fighter


Seeks to act with cleverness seeking short cuts to save time or effort where possible
Visionary, Architect, Systems builder


Seeks to add ingenuity and logic to ideas and actions
Catalyst, spokes-person, energizer


Likes to persuade people about values and personal inspirations
Tends to be noticed for:
Being hardworking,  reliable and dependable
Being resourceful, risk taking and spontaneous
Being competent, expert and logical
Being open, authentic and inclusive

Jung, and those who followed him in the Type, Temperament and later the Trait school of thinking, advocated that the above preferences would significantly guide a person’s leadership behavior. In other words, given the same set of circumstances in which leadership of some kind was required, four differently discernible behavioral preference styles would be likely to be adopted.

Jungian thinking is not as dogmatic as it may, at first, appear. Type and temperament are only a reflection of the “mental tools” that are available to us (with some mental traits being stronger than others). Hence, we can still choose how we behave or we can adopt a leadership style that is contrary to our inner temperament (although Jung would have suggested that this would only occur in the short term, as our temperament will always ultimately shine through). 

Ralph Stogdill

Jung’s work catalyzed considerable research into whether leadership traits could be scientifically or at least systematically determined, and in more observable externally behavioral terms than they had been proposed by Jung (in what we might today call intrinsic competencies).

Ralph Stogdill’s leadership trait research in the late 1940’s was one of the most extensive and widely reported. Stogdill was able to identify a number of traits considered to be common to almost all leaders as follows:


Requires status through active participation

  • Demonstrates ability to facilitate the efforts of the group to attain its goals
  • Intelligent
  • Alert to others’ needs
  • Understands the task
  • Initiative
  • Persistence in dealing with problems
  • Self-confident
  • Desire to accept responsibility
  • Desire for the position of dominance and control


  • Capacity (intelligence, alertness, verbal facility, originality, judgment)
  • Achievement (scholarship, knowledge, athletic accomplishments)
  • Responsibility (dependability, initiative, persistence, aggressiveness, self-confidence, desire to excel)
  • Participation (activity, social ability, co-operation, adaptability, humor)
  • Status (socio-economic, position, popularity).

Despite the apparently highly definitive (and statistically heavily correlated) nature of the above list, Stogdill concluded that the particular traits used by a leader may well be different from one situation to the next. In fact he finally drew four main conclusions from his research as follows:

  1. Traits used or drawn upon varied by situation or circumstance
  2. The Relative importance of trait varied by situation or circumstance
  3. A person does not become a leader by virtue of the possession of some combination of traits…”
  4. Two leaders with completely different traits could be successful in same situation

Stogdill’s trait based research has been followed upon extensively by many researchers –the most notable of these perhaps are Hebb, Mann and Cattell.

Warren Bennis

Warren Bennis was essentially a trait advocate but also believed that these traits were often learned and could therefore be developed. Hence, although he strongly believed leaders were more inclined to be “made” rather than “born”, he suggested that the capacity to transform vision to reality was the ultimate test of effectiveness (and much or how to do this could be learned). Bennis also believed that a number of key traits also had to be present and these should be developed as much as possible so as to be in a position to lead when the need to do so arose.

Ten Traits of Dynamic Leaders

Bennis suggests that, “Dynamic leaders possess some distinguishing personality traits that give them the power and passion to succeed.”  Bennis’s own research found:

  1. Self-knowledge Knowledge of own talents – Value of assignments with responsibility and accountability, you gain self-insight through some hall of mirrors, some prismatic way of seeing yourself in a variety of circumstances.
  2. Open to feedback – Effective leaders develop valued and varied sources of feedback on their behavior and performance.
  3. Eager to learn and improve – Leaders are great askers and listeners. They know what they are good at doing, and they nurture and develop those skills and those talents. Extraordinarily thirsty for knowledge.
  4. Curious, risk takers – Most leaders are adventurous, risk takers, curious and get involved in situations that they did not realize until later were dangerous.
  5. Concentrate at work – Some are not very articulate leaders, but as you get to know them at work, display remarkable concentration and persistence.
  6. Learn from adversity – great leaders have had a significant setback, crisis or failure in their lives.
  7. Balance tradition and change – Value principles of tradition and stability, as well as the need for revision and change
  8. Open style – Be extremely reflective and Vulnerable to criticism.
  9. Work well with systems – Great leaders realize they cannot handle every problem on their own. They rely on staff and systems to get things done.
  10. Serve as models and mentors – Helps others to learn and learns from others.

2. Patterns of Learned Behavior Leadership Thinking

Those people that advocate that individuals draw upon particular patterns of learned behavior, tend to believe that the leader is a critical player, but they can adopt and develop approaches or styles of behavior that are likely to work well when seeking to lead of influence others. Good leaders can therefore very much be nurtured.

Stephen Covey

Stephen Covey specified seven principles or habits of effective leaders as follows:


  1. Be proactive – the principle of self-awareness, personal vision, and responsibility.
  2. Begin with the End in Mind – the Principle of Leadership andMission
  3. Put First Things First – the Principle of Managing Time and Priorities Around Roles and Goals
  4. Think Win-Win – The Principle of Seeking mutual Benefit
  5. Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood – the Principle of Empathic Communication
  6. Synergize – the Principle of Creative Co-operation
  7. Sharpen the Saw – the Principle of Continuous Improvement

The 7 principles of leadership operate on 4 Levels:

  1. Personal (Trustworthiness)
  2. Interpersonal (Trust)
  3. Managerial (Empowerment)
  4. Organizational (Alignment)

These Lead to 6 Conditions of Empowerment:

1.    Character 
  • Abundance Mentality
2.  Skills  
    • Communications
    • Planning & Organization
    • Synergistic Problem-Solving
3.    Win-Win Agreement 
      • Desired results
      • Guidelines
      • Resources
      • Accountability
      • Consequences
4.  Self-Supervision
        • Control -> Plan -> Do
5.    Helpful Structures and Systems
6.    Accountability 
        • Self-Evaluation

Robert Tannenbaum and Warren Schmidt

The Continuum developed by Robert Tannenbaum and Warren Schmidt was intended to depict a specific pattern of behavior that a leader or manager could adopt with those that they are seeking to influence. This is therefore a simple model, which shows the relationship between the level of freedom that a leader chooses to give to a team, and the level of authority used by the leader. As the team’s freedom is increased, so the leader’s authority decreases.

Continuum of Leadership Behavior

Tannenbaum and Schmidt developed this continuum of leadership behavior to describe a range of behavioral patterns available to a manager. They related the leader’s actions to the degree of authority used by him and the amount of freedom available to his subordinates.

The leader’s actions described on the left characterize the manager who maintains a high degree of control, while those on the right describe a manager who delegates authority. Tannenbaum and Schmidt felt that a leader should not choose one style and adhere to it strictly but should be flexible and adapt his or her style to the situation (although this is not as “situationally” flexible as the Situational Leadership® model later developed by Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard).

Douglas McGregor

In the early 1960’s Douglas McGregor developed a simple philosophical view of humankind with his Theory X and Theory Y model or style pattern that (in his opinion) all leaders fall into. These are two opposing perceptions are fundamentally about how people view human behavior at work and organizational life.

Under Theory X

  • People have an inherent dislike for work and will avoid it whenever possible.
  • People must be coerced, controlled, directed, or threatened with punishment in order to get them to achieve the organizational objectives.
  • People prefer to be directed, do not want responsibility, and have little or no ambition.
  • People seek security above all else.

With Theory X assumptions, management’s role is to coerce and control employees.

Under Theory Y

  • Work is as natural as play and rest.
  • People will exercise self-direction if they are committed to the objectives (they are NOT lazy).
  • Commitment to objectives is a function of the rewards associated with their achievement.
  • People learn to accept and seek responsibility.
  • Creativity, ingenuity, and imagination are widely distributed among the population. People are capable of using these abilities to solve an organizational problem.
  • People have potential.

With Theory Y assumptions, management’s role is to develop the potential in employees and help them to release that potential towards common goals.

Theory X is the view that traditional management has taken towards the workforce. Many organizations are now taking the enlightened view of theory Y. A boss can be viewed as taking the theory X approach, while a leader takes the theory Y approach.

3. Culture/climate Focused Leadership Thinking

Those people that advocate that the culture or climate in which a leader finds him or herself is the most important factor in terms of leadership success or failure, tend to see the leader as being heavily constrained by environmental factors often beyond their direct ability to control. Hence, we need to be alert to these external conditions at an early stage and adjust our approach accordingly.

John Adair

John Adair’s action-centered leadership model was one of the first to advocate that effective leadership occurred by identifying the amount of emphasis that needed to be placed on 3 factors as shown in the model below (with the Task to be achieved being the first consideration):

Three-Circle Model of Leadership


This refers to the business of getting the job done. Virtually all groups have a task to perform, and not achieving the task is a major failure (for the leader and the team).

Too little task

If too little attention is paid to the task then you may have a very cohesive team, but it won’t achieve anything. And if it doesn’t achieve anything it won’t be cohesive for very long.

Too much task

If too much attention is paid to the task then people may not be able to find ways of working together effectively.


Teams rely on different people making different contributions. This means that the team members have to be able to work together – for the duration of the task.

Too little team

If too little attention is paid to the team then it will not function as a group and people will not be able to offer their contributions.

Too much team

If too much attention is paid to the team then the task may be forgotten and individual’s needs not met.


Teams are made up of individuals. If their needs are not met then they will not want to contribute.

Too little individual

If too little attention is paid to the individual then that person’s contributions will be restricted – and the rest of the team may feel that they could well be next.

Too much individual

If too much attention is paid to the individual then you may well have a good therapy group but it will be hard to get the task done.

Jane Mouton and Robert Blake

In the Management/Leadership Grid originally developed by Robert Blake and Jane Mouton, their aim was to adopt the simplicity of McGregor’s bi-polar model style model but to reflect this in a four-quadrant grid format.

The two scales they chose for their grid were “Concern for People” and Concern for Production”.

The assumption made by Blake and Mouton is that there is a best leadership style (behavior). The best set of behaviors is assumed to be 9,9. A high concern for production, coupled with a high concern for employees. On the basis of the Managerial Grid, 1,1 leadership (Impoverished) is the least desirable style (see the diagram below). The grid was used as the basis to measure current leadership approaches.

Leadership Grid

The work done by Mouton and Blake, and others that followed them (particularly atOhioStateUniversityin theUnited States) provided the foundation for the much more sophisticated and practically usable Situational leadership® system that was evolved during the 1960’s.

Pulling it all together – The links to Situational Leadership® and the SOAR and LSOARV Peak Performance Model

In this brief look at some of the recent leadership thinking, we have seen that the three categories of Inner Type and Temperament, Patterns of learned behavior and finally Culture/climate are all important and quite discrete schools of leadership thought. However, they are all relatively independent of one another and tend to stress the dominance of one area at the expense of the others. In others words a purely traits led, learned behavior or circumstances led leadership approach has proved to be limited (either as a way of defining leadership or acting as a predictor of leadership success).

If we draw these 3 categories or schools of leadership thinking on a circular chart (as shown below), we can see that all of these areas are in fact overlapping and need to be considered as complimentary components on one single holistic model.

The Situational Leadership® theory is perhaps still the only model that draws from all of these theories (as well as adding ideas of its own), and in so doing provides a system that every leader can apply. In other words, as the diagram below indicates, Situational Leadership® takes a “slice” of all three categories of the recent leadership thinking and suggests that a leader draws on inner temperament and traits and talents and skills in order to “flex” or adjust his or her approach according to what he or she finds each time. This is done by determining an individual’s needs in any given set of circumstances (essentially how mature the person is) and then adopting a leadership style that is likely to work best.

Situational Leadership Diagram

The SOAR and LSOARV Model

Just as Situational Leadership®  aims to take an all inclusive and balanced approach from much of the leadership theory, the SOAR model, originally developed by Norman Maier, is a useful acronym to represent the interaction of all three categories of thought (and all none leadership theories) that we have discussed to this point. The SOAR model simply suggests that many factors potentially effective leadership and the acronym helps us to consider each of them individually and collectively.

Originally, this model had only the four “SOAR” components, which picked the particular situation or circumstances in which an individual leader may find themselves, the organization of which they are a part (including the team members or followers and their needs), the activities or tasks that need to be achieved and finally the results that are expected from the effort.

However, although the model proved to be useful, later thinking about the particular leader themselves (and any intrinsic traits, styles or skills they may have) and the long term vision or strategic  goals that may exist, led to the addition of the “L” for leader and “V” for Vision to the variables.  This model therefore now suggests that individuals can “soar” to higher performance but driven by flexible and fast-adapting leader behavior and with the benefit of a clear vision of where they are heading in the medium to long term.

The entire “L “SOAR” V model is therefore shown diagrammatically below.














There are many more leadership theories than the ones that we have described in this article. However, to a large extent, the vast majority of the ideas put forward even today, tend to build on one or more of the concepts that we have described above.

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About Dr. Jon Warner

Dr. Jon Warner is a prolific author, management consultant and executive coach with over 25 years experience. He has an MBA and a PhD in Organizational Psychology. Jon can be reached at

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  1. Frode H.February 19, 2013 at 7:45 am

    This is a very interesting article. I did not feel as a leader type or act as a leader among friends as a kid. This is absolutley a skill that I have learned as an adult. But then again I might have been an intuitive type, as I got strong people skills today and can motivate a stone to fly almost. I am still kind of quiet as a person. Well anyhow, just wanted to say that this is a well writen and good article. Keep up the good work.

    • Dr. Jon WarnerMarch 26, 2013 at 7:28 pmAuthor

      Many thanks Frode.

  2. Fred SeigneurApril 10, 2013 at 3:39 am

    I have intentionally not read the material posted yet. I will, but I don’t want to have the benefit of your wisdom until I suggest what my be my own. Here goes:

    But, any creature that is born is “made” according to their own DNA. Our birth into this world is just the beginning. Part of life is discovering who we are, and being conformed to the image of the one our DNA has specified. This requires life experiences.

    The world is a kind of womb (look up the etymology of “matrix”). We can live our whole lives and never yet truly be born: never become who we are to be. We must consciously decide to enter the birth canal and to come forth.

    Fred Seigneur (Spiritual Architect)

About the Editor and Primary Author

Jon Warner

Jon Warner is an executive coach and management consultant and in the past has been a CEO in three very different companies. Read more

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