ARE LEADERS BORN? Or IS THERE AN INNATE SET OF QUALITIES THAT ‘FIT’ A PERSON TO BE A LEADER? Or CAN LEADERSHIP BE CONTINGENT ON SITUATION?
My initial response was to try and come down on one side of the discussion or another. However, having begun to read Culture, Leadership and Organisations: The GLOBE Study of 62 Societies (House et al, 2004), I now see that the answer to these questions are not as obvious as you might expect! House et al (2004) have examined culture and leadership as a combination of ‘practices’ and ‘values’.
Very simplistically, practices are ‘the way things ARE done’ and values are ‘the way things SHOULD be done’. When we are born we do not have values and we have no experience (practices), therefore, you could imply that we have no leadership. For many years psychologists have debated that intelligence is partly influenced by your environment, but also that it is hereditary! If you take the view that leadership and intelligence are correlated to some degree or other, you then might consider that there is the possibility that leaders are ‘born’ as opposed to ‘made’.
They suggest that ‘if there are greater environmental and social INEQUALITIES within a group’, then the ‘effect of environmental influences will be greater than that of genetic influences’. However, if there are ‘EQUAL social and environmental opportunities within the group, then the effects of hereditary will be more noticeable’, (Occupational Assessment – Course Manual, PsyTech International, 2009:15).
This thinking suggests that it is possible for intelligence, and by implication leadership, to have links to genetics! The key here is the equality or inequality in social and environmental influences and perhaps you could surmise that, in general, more ‘equal’ influences are more likely within developed as opposed to developing countries – however, this an extremely subjective perspective. Now consider young adults, say of 14 years of age and over, and take into account the life experiences that they have been exposed to within this time.
You could argue that beyond this age a value-set has been rooted within individuals and that these could be described as ‘innate’ in quality and might also ‘fit’ that young person to be a leader. Additionally, that they are increasingly aware of group dynamics, power distances and assertiveness (to name just a few) through the environment within which they grow up, socialize and are educated within – hence their leadership qualities being ‘contingent’ on the situation.
Given that this young adult has been exposed to equal and unequal social and environmental influences (described above), you now have a set of values and experiences (practices) that can be observed and evaluated. Values are less likely to develop significantly beyond this age, however, experiences (practices) are more likely to develop, mature and influence our leadership styles year on year until we die.
We are now in a position to measure leadership values and practices against accepted and agreed norms and profiles (dependent on the region) to identify individual areas of strength and also areas for development, even on young adults as
young as 14 years of age. So a person’s early years, and the equal or unequal social and environmental influences and situations they were exposed to, are likely to have an effect on (perceived) leadership qualities and approaches used by individuals. This analysis leads me to believe that the answer is ‘yes’ (to some degree or other) to ALL of these questions?
The challenge is to identify the specific factors that more fully contribute, as opposed to impede, to outstanding leadership within your context or region. This is a hugely important debate, as the increasing globalization of business requires individuals and organisations to more fully understand values and practices in other cultures. House et al (2004) indicate that ‘leadership is culturally contingent’, that is, views on the importance and value of the behaviour and attributes of leaders vary across cultures.
For example, when you consider the region within which I work (the Middle East) the following leadership approaches have been found to dominate across 10 global clusters (no summary findings have been excluded or adjusted):
Highest - Anglo cluster
Lowest - Middle East cluster
Team Oriented Leadership
Highest - Latin American cluster
Lowest - Middle East cluster
Highest - Germanic Europe cluster
Lowest - Middle East cluster
Highest - Southern Asia cluster
Lowest - Nordic Europe cluster [Middle East cluster - Neither Highest nor Lowest]
Highest - Eastern Europe cluster
Lowest - Latin American cluster [Middle East cluster - Neither Highest nor Lowest]
Highest - Southern Asian cluster [Middle East cluster - 2nd Highest]
Lowest – Nordic Europe cluster (House et al, 2004:42-45)
A simple hypothesis, based on these summary findings, suggest that you are less likely to experience Charismatic/ValueBased, Team Oriented and Participative leadership approaches within the Middle East and that the propensity is for more Self-Protective leadership styles.
House et al (2004:41-42) also go on to say that ‘Charismatic/Value-Based, Team Oriented, Participative leadership is generally reported to CONTRIBUTE to outstanding leadership’ and that ‘Self-Protective leadership is generally reported to IMPEDE outstanding leadership’.
Leadership being defined by House et al (2004) as the: “Ability to influence, motivate and enable others to contribute to success of their organization.” Culture and leadership have extreme meanings across many different societies. I suspect that many of the texts that we will study in this module have been generated with a more Western approach to leadership, despite the majority of those who have already introduced themselves to this cohort (11 from 13) not being born, resident or working within the West! I leave you to draw your own conclusions!
Sorry this piece is a bit long, but I got carried away with myself. It’d be nice to have some feedback on what you think and any further development of the discussion. Looking forward to continued interactions with you all, Kev
House, R.J., Hanges, P.J., Javidan, M., Dorfman, P.W., Gupta, V. (2004). Cultures, Leadership and Organizations: The Globe Study of 62 Societies. California, USA: Sage Publications Inc. PsyTech International, (2009). Occupational Assessment – Course Manual
End Post by Kevin
I want to explain the link between the text of Kevin and mine. To make the Kevin text short: what Kevin says is that the environment is important concerning the Leadership qualities someone develops but that characteristics are more important when those environments are the same for people or groups. Kevin brings forward that maybe those characteristics are genetically formed and that when those characteristics makes the big difference in becoming a Leader or not, that in such a case we could say that Leaders are born after all. In contrast to the genetic theory, the trait theory of Bertocci essentially says that leaders are born with certain traits or characteristics that make them leaders.
What we call the trait theory is really a collective grouping of theories that attempt to explain or describe leadership through a series of similar personality characteristics or traits. This theory attempts to identify specific physical, mental and personality characteristics associated with leadership success and relates those traits to certain success criteria (Bertocci 2009).
Quote: They suggest that ‘if there are greater environmental and social INEQUALITIES within a group’, then the ‘effect of environmental influences will be greater than that of genetic influences’. However, if there are ‘EQUAL social and environmental opportunities within the group, then the effects of hereditary will be more noticeable’, (Occupational Assessment – Course Manual, PsyTech International, 2009:15).
Given this quote it is easy to see that indeed traits and characteristics are part of our genes. In that sense those characteristics and traits are born. Social factors however play an important role in developing further the characteristics that makes someone a Leader. If we follow this path of thinking, then indirectly Leaders are born but must be developed afterwards. The success of this development is determined by those traits and characteristics of Bertocci and the thoughts and ideas brought forward by Kevin.
Now we can perfectly understand the next quote:
Quote: We are now in a position to measure leadership values and practices against accepted and agreed norms and profiles (dependent on the region) to identify individual areas of strength and also areas for development, even on young adults as young as 14 years of age.
So a person’s early years, and the equal or unequal social and environmental influences and situations they were exposed to, are likely to have an effect on (perceived) leadership qualities and approaches used by individuals. According to the trait theory, individuals who possess certain identifiable traits would be natural born leaders, and the trait theory would appear to be a clear and concise view of the origins and nature of leadership.
Trait theory assumes a finite number of individual traits of effective leadership can be identified and measured by studying proven leaders. Thus, there are probably as many different traits as there are leaders studied. Notwithstanding this assumption, trait theory and the examination of traits are worthy of study simply because it is one attempt to predict leadership effectiveness from physical, sociological and psychological characteristics of leaders (Bertocci 2009).
Bertocci, DI 2009, Leadership in Organizations, 1st edn, University Press of America, Plymouth.