Are Great Leaders Born, Made, Imagined or Imaginary?

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Date Submitted: 09/20/2011 06:35 PM

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Are Great Leaders Born, Made, Imagined or Imaginary?

The question “Are great leaders born, made, imagined or imaginary?” is something akin to the nature versus nurture debate so prominent through the 1970’s and 80’s.

Some believe that great leaders are born with the innate qualities that destine them for great leadership, that they have some kind of “leader gene”. Others have said that great leaders develop through their life experiences and learning opportunities that lead to development of leadership qualities and abilities.

The born versus made assertion is routed very much in the psyche and psychological traits of the individual leader. The question of whether leaders are imagined or imaginary relates more to sociological issues surrounding the impact, either real or imagined, that leaders have on their potential followers.

It has been asserted that the great leader is an imagined concept, in effect a mythological creature much the same as the mermaid or the unicorn. The imaginary Great Leader is more a skeleton of truth wrapped in an ever thickening skin of hype developed over years to present a figure that espouses the commonly held values of the leader’s culture.

Where do myth and reality intersect? The answer, as with nature versus nurture, lies somewhere between the descriptors offered.


The concept that great leaders are born relies on the preconception that great leaders are born with traits that somehow predispose them to greatness. The view that there is some kind of leadership gene that a person either has or has not greatly devalues the impact that environment plays on the development of all human beings.

Evidence of facultative adaptations,[1] particularly in the development of interpersonal relationships, provides the strongest opposition to the idea that leaders are born. Indeed, the question of whether a human being is born with an intransigent set of traits has largely been dismissed as a naïve concept representing an...