Blog Post

Are Leaders Born or Made? (Who Cares!)

Dr. Tom Tonkin

Principal, Thought Leadership & Advisory Services

Okay, this post is really not about whether or not leaders are born or made. The particular title of this post is one that’s been debated for a long time and continues to be debated in various circles. This is a topic that’s near and dear to my heart since this is my area of study. Though I pose this question as the title of this post, I would also suggest that we're not really posing the correct question.

The issue is not really about whether a leader is born or made but more so about having an understanding that allows for intentional development and a process that we can repeat. We know that leaders are both born and made, however, what makes the discussion more interesting is whether or not we can repeat the process. It is obvious that we cannot repeat former, leaders are born, but certainly can repeat the latter, make and develop leaders for the future. So, why am I bringing this topic up on this blog?

The reason is simple, as L&D professionals, we are always seeking to assist in the development and improvement of those we serve. What we are seeking is a set of repeatable processes that not only can be replicated but that their outcome can be predictable. To that end, here are three areas for consideration as you develop learning and development processes.

Competency Model - Yes, I said it, the ’C' word. The often used yet trivialized term that we utilize in our circles. As overused as it is, this is the correct word. Basically, a competency is all of the skills, knowledge, and experience that contribute to the correct behavior needed to accomplish an activity or role. Therefore, a model is a set of competencies that combined allow me to completely fulfill the role required. From our example above, there are many leadership competencies that would assist in my understanding of what needs to be done. This answers the ’What do I need to do"

Reliable and Valid Metrics - In this case, reliable and valid actually have a very real meaning. A reliable metric is a metric that measures exactly what it is that you’re trying to measure. For arguments sake, this reliability can be measured statistically, however, it is not the topic for discussion on this post right now. A valid metric is a metric that measures what it is that you want to measure. These metrics usually emanate from valid and reliable instruments. What I’m suggesting here is that we have instruments that reliably and validly measure the competencies stated above. This provides a current state of preparedness that acts as a baseline. This answers the "Where am I?"

L&D Assets to Close the Gap - Lastly, we need a set of learning and development assets that help us close the gap between where we are, as identified by our instruments, and where we want to be as identified by the scores we would need to achieve. This answers the "How do I get there?"

Are Leaders born or made? Who cares! We now have a good understanding of a repeatable process that will get us to our objective. Have a comment, idea or rebuttal? Love to hear from you. I’m at @DrTomTonkin on Twitter. #HappyLearning

Related Resources

Want to keep learning? Explore our products, customer stories, and the latest industry insights.

Cornerstone Performance: Holistic talent development that drives business forward


Cornerstone Performance: Holistic talent development that drives business forward

Whether you do performance reviews only once a year or have a robust, continual performance management process, with Cornerstone Performance, you can set goals, coach employees, receive feedback, guide development, and give recognition. Seamlessly link performance and skills data with internal learning opportunities to enable employee-driven, manager-supported growth. Because the best way to invest in business growth and achievement is by investing in the growth and achievements of your people with Cornerstone Performance.

Schedule a personalized 1:1

Talk to a Cornerstone expert about how we can help with your organization’s unique people management needs.

© Cornerstone 2024