The BBC asked this question a while ago while citing some of the greatest leaders of all time.

My opinion is that leadership as a skill can be learnt. I would consider much of leadership being wrapped up in teamwork, influence, strategy, and so on, and these are things that you can most certainly learn. I know this because I’ve learnt them! For many years I struggled with leadership and with building teams of people, but through being more prepared and investing in learning these skills, I’ve increased in being a leader.

I would clarify here that I also consider being a manager and a leader as two separate things. Managers aren’t necessarily leaders.

I so consider that, however, there are always people who will carry a far greater ability to lead. Like Churchill, or Alexander the Great, or Jesus, or Steve Jobs.

Are they born with it? I don’t know if it’s whether they are born with it or whether they are nurtured into it a very, very young age through particular circumstances. It’s hard to say.


Your Leading Thoughts

  • Is leadership learned? Or are you born with it?
  • What makes a great leader?

Archived Comments

  • Anonymous

    Hiya Scott,
    I totally agree with you that leadership is a skill, which needs to be practiced and developed.

    My dear friend Jim Kouzes, has a lovely reply for your question, that is if leaders are born?
    Jim says, ” Show me a leader which was not born!” ;-)

    Have a super cool day, guys!
    cheers from Slovakia

  • / Scott Gould

    I’ve heard the same saying too!

    So tell me – HOW have you learned leadership? Especially since you’re running NGLS!

  • Anonymous

    I would say there is no how to or any step by step manual. The most important thing which got me onto leadership path was that I have decided to work firstly on my personal development & how I live my own life, then the rest followed.
    Without plan, it all has just unfolded (including NGLS). Great mentors came into my life, inspiring books went through my hands, amazing events (meetings, web 2.0 connections, etc.) has happened and since then it is just rolling and one cannot stop to learn & be focused & to be present for others who have got inspired and want to make difference too;-)

  • / Scott Gould

    So important for you is the presene of wise council – people who have surrounded you with examples of leadership, whether through books, advice, etc

  • teedp

    You can learn it if you want !! The US President Teddy Roosevelt described his childhood experiences in a 1903 letter, writing:

    “As far as I can remember they were absolutely commonplace. I was a rather sickly, rather timid little boy”

    He decided on some strenuous activity in order to learn how to become a man. One that involved becoming a cowboy / good hunter. I think that he went through all the stages to become a great sage!!

  • / Scott Gould

    Come on!

    What one man can do another can do!

  • Anonymous

    Haha we spent a freaking eternity on this question in class.

    Ultimately we decided that leadership can be taught, but there are some people who have a head start.

  • teedp

    Exactly, he exercised his will to sort out some defects in his character that would enable him to become a man and great leader –

    One of his decisions involved finding some manly adventure ! Which helped iron out some of these negative childhood experiences.

  • Adrian Swinscoe

    That’s a great example. Now whilst I generally fall on the side of ‘can be taught/learnt’ I think there is real personal leadership in the character that Roosevelt showed and the decisions that he took to enable him to become a man in his mind. Given the ordinariness of his childhood there doesn’t seem to be a lot of evidence to support the idea that he was encouraged to make this type of decision. Therefore, is there a bit of nature in there too in his character?


  • / Scott Gould

    Hey Adrian

    I’d agree that there is nature. You can’t avoid it. But so much of nature is nurture at a young age! E.g was he the first born, etc.

    What do you think?

  • Brian Driggs

    Hey Scott,

    Like you, I believe there is a difference between managers and leaders. To me, managers manage and leaders inspire. It might also be worth suggesting managers are granted authority, while leaders earn it.

    I think it’s definitely a skill learned over time. Truly, how could anyone lead without experience? To that end, how immeasurably valuable is failure?

  • Adrian Swinscoe

    Hi Scott,
    I agree with you but there is a part of me that wants to know more about the context and the relationships that Roosevelt had around him at such a young age and was he influenced and guided by them or was this a prescient decision on his own part.


  • / Scott Gould

    True! Perhaps room for research here. I’d love to find about more about Roosevelt

  • / Scott Gould

    John Maxwell talks about the 5 levels of leadership in which “position” is the lowest level – people follow you because they have to.

    Moving beyond that is a matter of doing the right things. I’m reading Influence by Robert Cialdini which has some nuggets

  • / Scott Gould

    I’d agree with that!

  • Robin Dickinson

    It’s a great question, Scott. IMO, leadership is a skill that can be learned AND some people have a genetic predisposition that suits being a leader. Whether those people ‘step in’ to that genetic advantage is another thing entirely.