Is a leader born or made?

(Genesis 25:19-27)

This question as to whether leaders are born or made is one that has raged through the ages. Older theories and models of leadership would have us believe that leaders are born, not made. Either you’ve got it or you haven’t. 

However, research and empirical evidence, particularly in the field of industrial psychology in the last fifty to sixty years have challenged and helped to reshape thinking in this sphere. One of the insights gained is that a person may be born with all the right traits and qualities to be a leader, yet without the enabling environment, those qualities may not emerge or nurtured to full potential.

Leadership qualities vary in degree, depending on each individual’s grace, gifts and talents.

For example, there are those who have a lower degree of gifting or talent, for want of a better expression, yet they may still develop into high quality leaders, given the right environment and proper investment, helping them to operate way above their inherent potential.

This can be seen in the field of education and sports, where moderate ability individuals can seemingly excel, due to coaching, parental support, dedication and other forms of technical or developmental input.

The narrative that informs this article would seem to suggest that leaders are born. It tends towards the view that those who lead are predetermined, not just from birth, but before birth. It is the story of two boys; twins, one whose name is Esau and the other called Jacob.

Before the boys were conceived their mother had been childless for many years. The old language would refer to her as barren. However, in the process of time God answered Rebekah’s the prayers, and that of her husband, Isaac; and she became pregnant.

As the twins were jostling in their mother’s womb, she asked the question, ‘What is happening to me?’God said to her, Two nations are in your womb and the two people from within you will be separated. One people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger.’ (Genesis 25:23).

The words spoken by God to Rebekah cannot be any more definitive or clearer – one people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger.

The summary of the story of the twins, as their lives unfolded, moving from childhood to boyhood to manhood, with all the twists and turns, is the fulfillment of the prophetic pronouncement made over their respective lives whilst they were still in the womb. Jacob did indeed become greater than his brother, Esau.

Whilst it would be interesting to explore nuances and minutiae of how the two boys turned out the way they did, our main consideration is that before they were born the mantle of greatness had already been designated and placed upon the younger. Jacob became stronger and greater than his older brother. From Jacob came the twelve tribes of Israel.

Back to our central question: are leaders born or made?

My answer is that potential leaders are born, but effective leaders are made. How are effective leaders made?

They are made by the following:

(i) training – equipping and development of the cognitive faculties, the ability to reason and acquire conceptual knowledge;

(ii) opportunity. I have in mind opportunities for practical development. The focus here is on competency development, in terms of skills acquisition, shaping of behaviour and character formation. It involves being exposed to the practical aspects of leadership so that skill is sharpened, the character is tested and overall ability to lead honed.

God made sure that Jacob went through these key steps, sometimes having to endure real hardship, lessons in humility and dependence on God, in order for his potential as a leader to be realised.

He moved from being a potential leader to an effective one, and through him, the promise of God for the nations of the world would ultimately be fulfilled through Jesus Christ.


Copyright Emmanuel Mbakwe 2017©
PS: If you have been inspired, provoked or learned something from this article, why not do any or all of the following: (i) leave some feedback or a comment, either positive or developmental; (ii) recommend it to a friend; (iii) share it with a friend. This will encourage and help me to serve you better, so together we can make a difference in our world.

About the Author:
Emmanuel Mbakwe is a Pastor, an apostolic leader, business advisor, leadership coach, mentor, and published author. He is the immediate past General Overseer of the Apostolic Church UK. His vision and heart’s desire is to help people realise their God-given potential and fulfil the purpose of God for the life.

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